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Italian Journalist Reportedly Abducted In Afghanistan

Italian soldiers inspect the site of a blast on the outskirts of Kabul in late September (epa) PRAGUE, October 15, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The United Nations mission in Afghanistan confirmed today that Afghan police are investigating the reported abduction of an Italian freelance photojournalist.

Local reports say Gabriele Torsello and his Afghan interpreter were seized by five armed men on October 14 as they drove from Lashkargar, the capital of the southern province of Helmand, to Kandahar.

Torsello, a freelancer, was not registered with the NATO media office and was not on an alliance-sponsored trip.

The southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar have been the scene of the most intense fighting between Taliban and NATO troops this year, in the worst upsurge in violence in the country since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 that ousted the Taliban regime from power.

The Italian reporter's abduction comes a week after two German journalists were killed in northern Afghanistan. They were the first foreign journalists to be murdered in the country since late 2001.

Aleem Siddique, a United Nations spokesman in Afghanistan, said that "coming so soon after the tragic incident involving the two German journalists who were killed in Baghlan province," the abduction of Torsello "is a matter of great concern for all of the international community and also for the Afghan authorities."

Siddique appealed to the Afghan authorities to "leave no stone unturned" to find Torsello and ensure he is released unharmed.

An Italian online newspaper, PeaceReporter, which specializes in reports from conflict zones, said Torsello confirmed by phone he had been kidnapped. But he did not say by whom. Torsello reportedly told the Italian online newspaper he did not know where he was being held.

So far, no one has claimed responsibility for Torsello's abduction or made any ransom demands.

More than 2,500 people, most of them militants, have been killed in Taliban-led violence and foreign troops operations this year in Afghanistan. The deaths also include hundreds of civilians, aid workers, Afghan forces and over 140 foreign soldiers.