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British-Pakistani journalist held captive in Pakistan since March released

(IPI/IFEX) - VIENNA, 9 September - British-Pakistani journalist Asad Qureshi, who was kidnapped in March in Pakistan's restive Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, has been released, according to the British High Commission in the country, news reports said on Thursday.

The High Commission did not release more information, except to say he was receiving consular assistance.

Qureshi was abducted from the tribal areas around the city of Kohat in the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan. According to Dawn newspaper, which first reported the story, Qureshi had been traveling with two retired officers from Pakistan's intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

The Dawn source told IPI at the time that Qureshi and the two former ISI operatives had been returning from a meeting with Taliban representatives when they were all intercepted and kidnapped by unknown individuals. The two officers were identified by local media as Col (R) Imam and Sq Leader (R) Khalid Khawaja.

According to news reports, Qureshi had been working at the time on a story for a British TV broadcaster.

In April, a ransom demand was issued for the release of the hostages, by a hitherto-unknown group calling itself the Asian Tigers.

The video demanded the release of several top Taliban leaders from Pakistani prisons in exchange for the safety of the hostages.

Some local media sources said the video contained a clip of Qureshi saying, "My name is Asad Qureshi. I am a British citizen. Please help and set me free. I am being detained by Asian Tigers".

Also in April, one of the two former ISI officers kidnapped along with the journalist was killed.

The body of Khalid Khwaja was found in North Waziristan with a message from the unknown terror organization, the Asian Tigers, 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.

"We are relieved to hear of the release of Asad Qureshi," said IPI Press Freedom Manager Anthony Mills. "His kidnapping starkly highlighted the risks journalists working in the region face. We would like to remind all parties that journalists should have the right to move freely, and report on all sides of a story, without fear of kidnapping, or worse."
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