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British commando dies in raid to free reporter

A commando was killed during an operation to free a journalist kidnapped in Afghanistan, it was reported today.

Stephen Farrell, a reporter with the New York Times who holds dual British and Irish citizenship, was successfully released.

But military officials quoted by the Associated Press news agency in the Afghan capital Kabul said a British commando died in the raid. The Ministry of Defence in London was unable to confirm the report.

Mr Farrell, who was abducted on Saturday, said his Afghan interpreter also died.

They were snatched as Mr Farrell was reporting on the aftermath of a Nato airstrike in the northern province of Kunduz.

The reporter and his interpreter, named by the New York Times as Sultan Munadi, travelled to Kunduz to investigate reports of civilian deaths in the airstrike on two hijacked fuel tankers.

Afghan officials said about 70 people died when US jets dropped two bombs on the tankers, igniting them in a massive explosion.

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Describing the moment his rescuers arrived, Mr Farrell said: “We were all in a room, the Talibs all ran, it was obviously a raid.

He told the New York Times: “We thought they would kill us. We thought ‘should we go out?'.

“There were bullets all around us. I could hear British and Afghan voices.”

He said Mr Munadi moved forward, shouting: “Journalist! Journalist!” but dropped in a hail of bullets.

Mr Farrell said he dived into a ditch and after a minute or two heard more British voices.

He said he shouted: “British hostage!” and as he moved towards the voices he saw Mr Munadi lying on the ground motionless.

“He was lying in the same position as he fell. That's all I know. I saw him go down in front of me. He did not move. He's dead. He was so close, he was just two feet in front of me when he dropped.”

Mr Farrell (46), a former reporter with the Times in London, joined the New York Times in 2007 as a correspondent in the newspaper's Baghdad bureau.

The MoD has refused to confirm reports that British special forces were involved in the raid.

A spokeswoman said: “We do not comment on special forces. All we can say is that it was a Nato operation.”

The Foreign Office said: “Efforts have been under way to secure the release of two hostages in Afghanistan.

“We can confirm that Isaf forces have freed one of the hostages.”

It is the second time Mr Farrell has been kidnapped. In 2004, while on assignment for The Times, he was kidnapped by bandits near Fallujah in Iraq.

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