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Italian Muslims, NUJ and Taliban call for Torsello release as negotiations continue

26 October 2006 - EPUK

There were further pleas today for the release of kidnapped Italian photojournalist Gabriele Torsello who has now been missing in Afghanistan for 14 days.

Torsello, nicknamed “Kash” for his long-term photographic work in Kashmir, is believed to have been kidnapped by five armed gunmen on October 12 from a public bus, although there are still conflicting reports as to the details and timing of his kidnapping.

During a phone call on October 19th, Torsello told negotiators: ‘The kidnappers tell me that I am a spy and that British troops bombed Musa Qala and Nawzad districts on intelligence I have provided”.

Torsello, who was dressed in traditional Afghan dress, and who sports a large black beard, converted to Islam several years ago.

While his kidnappers originally identified themselves as Taliban, a spokesperson for the Taliban told reporters: “The kidnappers of the Italian journalist are common criminals and they are holding him for ransom. If we find them, we will try them”. He added that the Taliban had provided security for Torsello for much of his time in southern Afghanistan.

A news conference arranged today by the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) in London heard calls for Torsello’s release from leading Muslin peer Lord Nazir Ahmed, Yvonne Ridley, the former Sunday Express journalist who was kidnapped by the Taliban in 2001 and who converted to Islam three years after her release, and his cousin Donatella Torsello.

“A committed photojournalist, and a wonderful man and father”

Yvonne Ridley told the news conference: “It is with great sadness that I hear of the plight of Gabriele Torsello, known to his friends as Kash. Like me, he went to Afghanistan as a professional media person, and like me his intentions were purely for the good of the Afghan people, and in the pursuit of haq or the truth.”

Donatella Torsello, who like her cousin lives in London, said: “am deeply concerned for the safety of my cousin Gabriele who is been like a brother to me since he moved to London 14 years ago. I proudly watched him grow into a committed photojournalist and his photos continue to touch the heart of many people.”

“I ask his captors to keep him safe and to release him unharmed because he is wonderful man and father.”

Pictured at the NUJ press conference today: Lord Nazir Ahmed of Rotherham, Gabriele’s cousin Donatella Torsello, and Yvonne Ridley
Photograph: Andrew Wiard/reportphotos

While the kidnappers’ first two demands – an exchange with an exiled Afghan Christian convert now living in Italy, and the withdrawal of Italian troops from Afghanistan – were turned down by the Italian government, and the deadline for the demands was passed last Sunday, his kidnappers have made assurances through humanitarian relief group Emergency that Torsello is still alive.

Calls from Italy’s Muslims

Italy’s largest Muslim group, the Union of Italian Islamic Communities (UCOII) said in a statement today: “Free our brother Kash Torsello….he, like other journalists who work in war zones, record horror so it can be seen and stopped.”

The statement continued: “We would like to express its solidarity and closeness to the family members of the reporter Gabriele Torsello and to the entire country. We pray to God Almighty, of having the chance to see Gabriele safe and sound again, back with his family.”

The call is expected to be broadcast on Arabic television channels Al Jazeera and Al Hurra. Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema described the move as “extremely positive”

*NUJPhoto are continuing to add new developments and background to their website: you can read more here*

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