Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Afghan Victims Go Unnoticed in Kidnap Release

The release of a foreign journalist held by the Taleban sparked headlines all over the world, but the murder of his driver went almost unnoticed.
By IWPR trainees
About 100 protesters attempted to storm the guest house in Lashkar Gah where Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo was awaiting evacuation on March 20.

They wanted more information about two Afghan men who were kidnapped along with the foreigner, and were angry at what they saw as their government’s failure to protect its own citizens.

After his release, Mastrogiacomo, a correspondent for the Italian paper La Reppublica, was housed at a guest house attached to an emergency hospital run by an Italian aid group. He was unharmed in the protests.

Mastrogiacomo was seized by the Taleban in the increasingly lawless southern province of Helmand on March 5, along with his driver Sayed Agha and his translator, named as Ajmal.

Sayed Agha, who was from Lashkar Gah, was killed shortly after the kidnapping. The whereabouts of Ajmal, from Kabul, are still unknown.

The protesters demanded to be given more information about the fate of the two men. They also voiced anger at the contrast between the concern the authorities showed for Mastrogiacomo and their apparent lack of interest in what happened to the Afghans.

Afghan media reported that the Italian was freed in an exchange in which the authorities released a number of imprisoned Taleban commanders.

“Our government is weak,” said one protester, who refused to give his name. “They are not thinking about our own people.”

Esmatullah, a 25-year old resident of Lashkar Gah, was incensed at what he saw as the Afghan government’s failure to protect its citizens.

“The government will exchange Taleban commanders for a foreigner when no one knows where our Afghans are, or whether they are alive or dead,” he said.

The protesters were dispersed by police firing shots in the air, said Mohammad Esau Iftekhari, head of the Department of Security in Helmand.

Iftekhari confirmed that Mastrogiacomo had been released, but said he had no information about the other two men.

The Taleban acknowledge that they killed Sayed Agha, but maintain that they released Ajmal along with Mastrogiacomo.

“We killed Sayed Agha three days after we took them,” said Taleban spokesman Qari Yusuf Ahmadi. “We knew he was a spy. But we let the other two go after we got our commanders back.”

Ajmal’s relatives in Kabul, however, said they had not heard from him, and had no information on his whereabouts.

The Taleban had demanded the release of Latifullah Hakimi, who was arrested in Quetta last year.

According to the Taleban’s Ahmadi, Hakimi was handed over along with another member he named as Mullah Yasar. The exchange could not be independently confirmed.

Sayed Agha’s cousin, Abdul Razzaq, said three of his male relatives went to retrieve the body in Garmseer, a district about 100 kilometres south of the capital.

“On the way back, they were stopped by the Taleban,” said Razzaq. “They asked why they didn’t have permission to get the body. Then they were arrested by the Taleban and taken back to Garmseer.”

Razzaq said the family then sent four elders and mullahs to negotiate with the Taleban for the release of the family members, along with Sayed Agha’s body.

“I am so angry I just do not know what to do,” said Razzaq, visibly upset.

Sayed Agha owned a shop in Helmand, according to friends and relatives. He sometimes took time off to accompany foreign journalists who visited the province.

He was 36 years old, and married with five children. His youngest son was born on March 6, one day after the kidnap.

“He was just a poor driver trying to feed his family,” said a neighbour. “Why did they release the Taleban when they had killed Afghans?”

IWPR has recently begun a journalism training programme in Helmand province. This story was compiled from reports written by the trainees.

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