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Afghanistan: Kidnappers Demand Exchange For Christian Convert


Abdul Rahman in a Kabul court in March, before he was granted asylum in Italy (AFP) PRAGUE, October 18, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- An Italian website says the kidnappers in Afghanistan of Italian photojournalist Gabriele Torsello want to exchange him for an Afghan convert to Christianity who was granted political asylum in Italy earlier this year.


The abductors reportedly have threatened to kill Torsello unless Italy sends 41-year-old Abdul Rahman back to Afghanistan by the end of the day on October 22.



The Italian-based "PeaceReporter" website says the kidnappers' demands came in a phone call to the Afghan security adviser of a hospital that Torsello visited just before his October 12 abduction.


"PeaceReporter" correspondent Enrico Piovesana says the security adviser told him the kidnappers threatened to kill Torsello unless the Italian government sent Christian convert Abdul Rahman back to Afghanistan by the end of Ramadan at midnight on October 22.

"It is very difficult to understand how it is going to develop in the next few days. For sure, we know that there will be new telephone contacts with the kidnappers. For now, we are waiting for a response by the Italian government."

Kidnappers Want Christian Convert


Italy granted political asylum to Abdul Rahman in March after he was freed by Afghanistan's Supreme Court. The court ruled Rahman was mentally unfit to stand trial for his conversion to Christianity -- a crime under Afghanistan's interpretation of Islamic Shari'a law that could carry the death sentence.


The security adviser confirmed to RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan today that he received the kidnappers' phone call and spoke about it to "PeaceReporter." But he said he has since been warned not to speak to journalists and referred all questions to the Italian Foreign Ministry.


The Italian Foreign Ministry told RFE/RL today that it is not prepared to offer any immediate comment.


But Piovesana agreed to speak to RFE/RL today about his interview with the security adviser.


Death Threat


"If their demands are not satisfied, they said that the hostage will be killed," he said. "They didn't want to speak about money. They said that they are very serious about their threat. Of course, to repatriate a person that has political asylum in Italy is against Italian law."


Piovesana said it is ironic that Torsello himself is a convert to Islam who prayed with Muslim hospital workers in Lashkar Gah just before he was kidnapped.


Those hospital workers say they gave the independent journalist a prayer rug that he was carrying with him when he was abducted. Piovesana says Torsello's wife, his father, other family members, and friends in Italy also have confirmed his conversion to Islam.


Taliban Involvement?


Although purported Taliban spokesmen say they know nothing about Torsello's abduction, Piovesana says the kidnappers made it clear in their phone call that they are Taliban.


"Since the first communication, they said, 'We are Taliban and we are an independent Taliban group,'" he said. "There are many different groups. Maybe this is an independent group. But they define themselves as Taliban, specifying that they are an independent Taliban group."


Piovesana says the security adviser also told him that he was allowed to speak with Torsello briefly on October 18, confirming that the callers actually were holding him.


"The situation is very hard," he said. "And at the moment, it is very difficult to understand how it is going to develop in the next few days. For sure, we know that there will be new telephone contacts with the kidnappers. For now, we are waiting for a response by the Italian government -- by the Italian Foreign Ministry."


(RFE/RL correspondent Jeffrey Donovan in Prague and RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Salih Mohammad Salih in Lashkar Gah contributed to this story.)

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