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Photojournalist and EPUK member "Kash" Torsello released by kidnappers

3 November 2006 - EPUK

Photographer Gabrielle “Kash” Torsello was today reported to be safe and well after being kidnapped in southern Afghanistan 22 days ago.

Timeline of a kidnapping

12th October: Torsello is taken from a public bus by five armed gunmen while travelling between Lashkar Gah and Kandahar

14th October: A call to Torsello’s mobile phone is answered by kidnappers, who identify themselves as Taliban, and say that they have taken the photojournalist for ‘spying’.

18th October – Torsello’s family hold a press conference in their home town of Alessano appealing for his release. In London, leading British Muslim Peer Lord Ahmed tells reporters: “If if you ask me what kind of person is Kash, I can guarantee you he is a fantastic person, an exceptional man. I feel very sorry for this act. Kash doesn’t deserve this. Set Kash free.”

19th October: 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”

19th October: Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema admits that there are difficulties in making progress in the negotiations due to talks continuing via third parties

19-20th October: Two torchlit processions are held on consecutive nights in Lecce and Alessano to remember Torsello’s plight

22nd October: Fears grow after a deadline for the kidnappers second demand – the withdrawal of Italian troops from Afghanistan – expires.

23rd October: The kidnappers reassure negotiatiors that Torsello is still in good health.

25th October: Torsello’s portrait is diaplayed in the Piazza Del Campidoglio, Rome, with authorities vowing to keep it there until he is released.

26th October: A NUJ press conference hears calls for his release from Lord Ahmed, Torsello’s cousin Donatella Torsello and journalist, former Taliban kidnappee and Islam convert Yvonne Ridley.

27th October: The Union of Italian Islamic Communities and Organisations (UCOII) launches a new appeal for Torsello’s release.

2nd November: Italian authorities describe “positive” developments in negotiations

3rd November: Torsello released by kidnappers at 1.30pm, Afghanistan time.

Torsello, 36, was reported to be in good health. Reports yesterday in italian newspaper Corriere della Sera had suggested the photojournalist may have been injured or killed after fighting between his kidnappers and the Afghan army.

His kidnappers had made a final telephone call at around 12pm Afghanistan time to Italian aid agency Emergency, who had been acting as intermediaries during the negotiations, advising that Torsello had been released near Kandahar. Staff from the aid agency found Torsello on the road a short time later.

Early reports suggest that Torsello is in good health and unharmed. He is currently at the Italian Embassy in Kabul but is expected to leave Afghanistan shortly and travel to his family’s home in Alessano, Italy.

It is still unclear as to the identity of his kidnappers. 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.

At the time of going to press, the Italian Foreign Ministry would not comment on what ransom, if any, had been to secure the photographer’s release.

“I thought the kidnappers were going to kill me”

Following his release, Torsello told the Peace Reporter website that during his captivity he was initially chained by his feet alone in a darkened room with only the Koran for company.

“I always thought about my family when I was imprisoned, and for a lot of the time I even was able to imagine myself being elsewhere. Then I would look at my chained feet, and I became reminded that was only a dream.”

Torsello admitted that when he was then moved to a different location, he was expecting to be killed. “One night, I was sitting in my room, chained, waited for the supper. The kidnappers arrived and opened the door, and one of them carried me outside. I thought that they were going to kill me. Then instead they have put me in a vehicle and drove me to a new location”

Convert to Islam

Italian national Torsello, nicknamed “Kash” for his photographic work in Kashmir, has been based in London for the last 12 years.

Torsello, who was dressed in traditional Afghan dress, and who sports a large black beard, converted to Islam several years ago. However, it emerged during the kidnapping that his parents were apparently unaware of his conversion.

Torsello has received widespread acclaim for his humanitarian photojournalism in both Kashmir and Afghanistan. His self-published book on Kashmir, a culmination of photographs shot between 1996 and 2003, was widely praised for its independence and compassion.

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