Taliban Threatened Escaped Times Journalists With Death

NYT editor agonized over whether to keep story mum

Two journalists held for more than seven months by the Taliban in Pakistan endured death threats before they escaped by tricking guards and dropping down a 20-foot wall with a rope, according to one of the former captives.

Afghan journalist Tahir Ludin provided the details in an interview published Monday by The New York Times.
Ludin was held captive along with David Rohde, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist at the Times, and their driver, Asadullah Mangal.
The past two to three months seemed so "hopeless" that he considered committing suicide with a knife, Ludin said. The driver appeared to be overwhelmed by fear of their captors and had not participated in the planning or the escape, Ludin said.
The journalists were abducted Nov. 10 south of the Afghan capital of Kabul. They escaped Friday.

They plotted to keep their captors awake as late as possible to ensure they would eventually sleep soundly. Ludin challenged them to a board game. At 1 a.m., Rohde woke Ludin, who recited several verses of the Quran and followed him out of the room. They made their way to the second floor.
Ludin got to the top of a 5-foot-high wall. When he looked down, he was greeted by a 20-foot drop.

Rohde handed Ludin a rope that he had found two weeks earlier and had hidden from the guards. They fastened the rope to the wall, and Ludin lowered himself along the rope.

He crashed to the ground, suffering a sprained right foot, cuts and bruises. Rohde then lowered himself along the wall and jumped without injury.

Ludin said they waited to make their escape attempt on a night when the city had electrical power. An old, noisy air conditioner masked other sounds.

As the two men walked away, dogs barked at them from nearby compounds and strays rushed at them. To their surprise, no Taliban members emerged from nearby houses.

After 15 minutes, Ludin said, they arrived at a Pakistani militia post. In the darkness, a half-dozen guards who suspected they were suicide bombers aimed rifles at them and shouted for them to raise their hands.
"They said, 'If you move, we are going to shoot you,'" he said.
Ludin said he was shivering in the darkness, and it took 15 minutes of anxious conversation to convince the guards that they had been kidnapped.
They were eventually allowed into the compound, ordered to take off their shirts, searched, blindfolded and taken to the base's headquarters. After Pakistani officials confirmed their identities, they were treated well.
Later that day, they were transferred to Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, and to an American military base outside Kabul.

Rohde confirmed the accuracy of Ludin's account but declined to comment further.

Meanwhile, deciding not to report initially on Rohde's capture by the Taliban for seven months was "an agonizing position that we revisited over and over again," New York Times executive editor Bill Keller said Sunday.

"All along, we were told by people that probably the wisest course for David's safety was to keep it quiet," Keller said in an interview on CNN.
The Times reported Saturday that Rohde escaped from seven months in captivity in Afghanistan and Pakistan by climbing over a wall on Friday.
"(I) have a responsibility for the people who work for me," Keller said. "I send a lot of people out into dangerous places and their security is also part of my job."

Keller said he worried at different points that the story would be leaked, such as in May when Rohde was part of the team that won a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Keller also said Arab satellite TV station Al-Jazeera was planning a story on Rohde but agreed to hold it at the Times' request.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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