Family pleads with Taliban for release of British journalist

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The Independent Online

The mother of Yvonne Ridley, the British journalist arrested in Afghanistan, fought back tears last night as she recorded a message to her daughter broadcast on BBC television news last night.

Joyce Ridley said: "Yvonne, I know you are strong and I know you will probably be laughing at me. We just want you home as quickly as possible because we love you and miss you."

Earlier, the reporter's former husband and father had begged the Taliban authorities for her safe return home to her eight-year-old daughter, Daisy, yesterday.

Daoud Zaaroura was "really concerned" for the safety of his ex-wife, who was arrested along with her two guides by Afghan militia 40 miles south-east of the provincial capital of Jalalabad two days ago.

Ms Ridley's father, Allan, broke down in tears outside his home near Beamish, County Durham, saying that his granddaughter, Daisy, who will be nine on Wednesday, had not yet been told of her mother's plight.

The Foreign Office said it remained "deeply concerned" for the welfare of Ms Ridley, the Sunday Express's chief reporter. News of Ms Ridley's arrest, 10 miles from the Pakistani border, was first revealed on Friday by the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP). The agency quoted the Taliban as claiming that she had entered the country without a passport or any other documents.

Ms Ridley, who has worked for several national newspapers, including The Independent on Sunday, was said to be wearing a traditional Afghan burqa, a garment that flows almost to the ground and has a mesh over the eyes through which its wearer can see.

Britain, which does not recognise the Taliban regime, could be forced to rely on fragile diplomatic channels via Pakistan to secure her release. Officials were last night trying to dampen down fears that Ms Ridley could be used as a human shield in the face of military retaliation for the attacks on New York and Washington three weeks ago.

Mr Zaaroura, the chief executive of the North of England Refugee Service, said: "She is in the hands of a regime that is very offensive and it's difficult to predict what might happen. I am really concerned."

He added that he believed her sole motivation for travelling to Afghanistan was to cover the plight of the estimated eight million starving refugees fleeing from the beleaguered country.

"If she went into Afghanistan to cover anything it would only be for humanitarian reasons," he said. "I would hope that she will be released very soon to get back to her family and her daughter."

Mr Ridley said he first heard of his daughter's plight when he went to pick up Daisy from her boarding school in Cumbria. His wife, Joyce, added: "I think she is being questioned at the moment and they are waiting to see what comes of that."

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We are in contact with the Taliban over this case and are deeply concerned for her welfare and seek to pursue this with the utmost vigour and care. We are making inquiries about Yvonne's wellbeing and any charges that may be brought against her. We would urge those holding Yvonne to treat her well and to resolve this situation quickly."