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Kidnapped journalist freed

Please note that a correction to this alert was issued on 14 May 2010.

(IPI/IFEX) - Vienna, 6 May 2010 - Asad Qureshi, a journalist who was kidnapped along with two former Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) operatives in the Kohat region of Pakistan last month, was released today, according to Pakistani broadcaster Dawn News.

Qureshi, along with Colonel Imam, one of the former ISI operatives, with close ties to the Taliban in the region, was handed over to a negotiation team earlier this afternoon.

Qureshi was traveling with Colonel Imam and former ISI Squadron Leader Khalid Khwaja, near the town of Kohat in Pakistan's restive North Western Frontier Province, when they were reportedly intercepted by members of a group calling itself The Asian Tigers and taken to an unidentified location.

The militants released a video on 19 April showing the two ISI operatives and the journalist, and demanded the release of several top Taliban leaders from Pakistani prisons in exchange for their safety. An emailed list of demands that accompanied the film did not mention the reporter in the text.

The body of Squadron Leader Khwaja was found in North Waziristan on 30 April with a message ostensibly from the Asian Tigers saying that he was killed because of his links to the CIA and his role in the Lal Masjid operation - a bloody standoff in 2007 between extremists in the Lal Masjid mosque and Pakistani government forces.

A source in Pakistan, who wished to remain anonymous given the sensitivity of the issue, told IPI today that the negotiations had been carried out by members of the Haqqani network, an independent insurgent network with close ties to the Taliban. The Haqqani network is believed to operate out of North Waziristan, the restive region bordering Afghanistan which is also believed to be the base of the Asian Tigers.

"Colonel Imam, besides being a former ISI operative, is also a respected figure for the Taliban," the source said.

The current location of Qureshi and Colonel Imam is unknown, but according to local media they have been handed over to the negotiation team, and no ransom is believed to have been paid.

"Journalists reporting from Afghanistan and Pakistan are extremely vulnerable to kidnapping, assault and murder," said IPI Director David Dadge. "We welcome Asad Qureshi's release and I hope that this is the end of a very traumatic experience for him."

Insurgent groups have kidnapped dozens of foreigners, including several journalists, since the ousting of the Taliban regime in 2001.

Two French journalists working for France 3 were kidnapped in December by the Taliban, which later announced that they would be killed unless the Taliban's demands were met. The two journalists, Stephane Taponnier and Herve Ghesquiere, both employed by France 3 television, were kidnapped in December in Afghanistan's northeastern Kapisa province, along with their driver and Afghan translator.

According to IPI's Death Watch count, Pakistan was one of the world's most dangerous countries for the media in 2009, with eight journalists killed because of their work.

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