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Reporter flees captors in Afghanistan

David S. Rohde of the New York Times, abducted in November, found freedom Friday.

New York Times reporter David S. Rohde interviewing Afghans in a photograph by the Times' Tomas Munita believed to have been taken in 2007 in the Helmand region of Afghanistan.
New York Times reporter David S. Rohde interviewing Afghans in a photograph by the Times' Tomas Munita believed to have been taken in 2007 in the Helmand region of Afghanistan.Read moreAssociated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan - A New York Times reporter known for making investigative trips deep inside dangerous conflict zones escaped from militant abductors after more than seven months in captivity by climbing over a wall, the newspaper said yesterday.

David S. Rohde was abducted Nov. 10 along with an Afghan reporter colleague and a driver south of the Afghan capital, Kabul. He had been traveling through Logar province to interview a Taliban commander but was apparently intercepted and taken by other militants on the way.

The Times reported that Rohde and Afghan reporter Tahir Ludin on Friday climbed over the wall of a compound where they were held captive in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan.

The two then found a Pakistani army scout, who led them to a nearby base, the Times said. Yesterday, the two were flown to the U.S. military base in Bagram, the Times reported.

A U.S. military spokeswoman, Lt. Cmdr. Christine Sidenstricker, said the military had not been involved.

Rohde, reported to be in good health, said his driver remained with their captors.

In Washington, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the United States was "very pleased" that Rohde was safe and returning home. He said the escape marked "the end of a long and difficult ordeal."

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton thanked the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan for their assistance in ensuring Rohde's safe return.

Most Western news outlets had respected a request from the Times to not report on the abductions because the publicity could jeopardize hostage-rescue efforts and imperil Rohde's life.

"From the early days of this ordeal, the prevailing view among David's family, experts in kidnapping cases, officials of several governments, and others we consulted was that going public could increase the danger to David and the other hostages. The kidnappers initially said as much," Bill Keller, the Times' executive editor, said in a story posted on the Times' Web site.

Kristen Mulvihill, Rohde's wife, told the Times that the two had been married for nine months, "and seven of those David has been in captivity." She thanked the Times, the U.S. government, and "all the others" who helped the family during the kidnapping.

Rohde, 41, who worked as a suburban correspondent for The Inquirer in 1993 and 1994, was on leave from the Times when he was taken. He had traveled to Afghanistan to work on a book about the history of American involvement in Afghanistan when he went to Logar to interview a Taliban commander.

The militants who kidnapped Rohde transferred him about 100 miles southeast to Pakistan's North Waziristan region. The Pakistani government said in a statement earlier this year that Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, had asked for its help in obtaining Rohde's release.

Rohde was part of the Times reporting team that won a Pulitzer Prize in May for coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan last year.

He also won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting while working for the Christian Science Monitor for reporting on the massacre of thousands of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica.

During that time, Rohde was taken prisoner by Serbian officials and held for 10 days.

The Debate: 'Should We . . . Go Public?'

There were times during the kidnapping ordeal of New York Times reporter David S. Rohde when his boss wavered in his determination to suppress the story. "Of all the subjects we discussed with the family, that was the one we discussed more intensively than any other: Should we change strategy and go public?" Executive Editor Bill Keller said yesterday.

Keller decided against it, and he was aided by silence from at least 40 major news organizations - including, after a personal appeal, al-Jazeera. "It makes us cringe to sit on a news story," Keller said, but in a life-or-death situation, "the freedom to publish includes the freedom not to publish."

Still, the unusual arrangement raises questions about whether journalists were giving special treatment to one of their own.

John Daniszewski, an Associated Press senior managing editor, said: "Your instinct is to publish what you know. But we felt there was just too high a risk something would happen to him."

In several previous cases, kidnapped journalists have drawn substantial coverage. Christian Science Monitor freelancer Jill Carroll, abducted in Baghdad in 2006, was released after intensive international coverage. Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnapped in Pakistan in 2002. The paper's editor publicly appealed for his release. Confirmation of Pearl's murder came less than a month later.

- Washington Post