He died trying to save me, says Farrell

British journalist recalls the moment he was freed – and his interpreter was killed
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The Independent Online

The Afghan fixer caught in crossfire at the climax of the kidnap drama in Afghanistan this week was trying to help Stephen Farrell when he died, the British journalist who survived the clash attested yesterday.

In a blog on the website of his newspaper, The New York Times, the veteran war reporter wrote of Sultan Munadi: "He had died trying to help me, right up to the very last seconds of his life."

He described how Mr Munadi was moments from safety when he was shot during the raid. Farrell, 46, also paid tribute to an unknown British soldier of the Parachute Regiment, who died trying to save him, and described how he encountered the soldier's "blood-soaked helmet" during the evacuation flight.

Since his rescue this week, Farrell has come under fire from unnamed defence sources, who have suggested he ignored advice not to travel to a Taliban-held area near the northern city of Kunduz to cover the aftermath of a Nato bomb strike on a stolen petrol tanker that was stranded in a river.

The strike was alleged to have killed more than 90 civilians, and a number of international news organisations were making their way to the area to validate the accusations.

Earlier reports had claimed that he and Mr Munadi had arrived at the site of the blast on Friday evening, a time when official security on northern Afghanistan's roads often disappears altogether. But in his testimony the correspondent, who has covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the British and American press, said the pair realised how late it was and decided to visit a hospital in Kunduz instead.

On Saturday morning the pair travelled to the site of the bomb blast. "I am comfortable with the decision to go to the riverbank," he wrote. "But I fear we spent too long there."

Apart from an initial attack on Mr Munadi with a rifle butt by a Talib, neither of the journalists were mistreated, but they struggled to convince their captors that they were reporters and not foreign spies. The Taliban became increasingly hostile towards Mr Munadi, reminding him of one incident when a captured Italian journalist had been exchanged, but his translator had been beheaded. "[Sultan] translated it, faithfully but with a grey face," Farrell wrote.

By the third day new captors had appeared. "One very scary, powerfully built Talib, who seemed to inspire awe among his underlings, sat staring at us, saying almost nothing."

On the third night, Farrell realised a rescue attempt could be imminent after a series of explosions and unmanned drones caused the veteran fighters to flee, leaving them in the hands of younger insurgents. "[Sultan] was trying to be upbeat," he recalled, "but was... despondent about his own chances."

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