Taliban Killing: Italian TV Shows Hostage Execution Footage

By in Rome

The Taliban's murder of the two Afghans captured along with the Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo has caused a storm of controversy in Italy. Now Italian TV has shown a video of one of the executions.

The footage of the driver Agha's execution was shown on Italian TV on Tuesday.
AP / RAI TG1

The footage of the driver Agha's execution was shown on Italian TV on Tuesday.

For days the Italian press has been filled with news about the execution of Ajmal Naqshbandi, the Afghan journalist who was acting as translator for the Italian repoter Daniel Mastrogiacomo when both were captured by Taliban forces.

On Tuesday evening the TV station TG1 broadcast further gruesome details of the kidnapping of the two men and their driver, Sayed Agha, in early March. With the warning "For Adults Only," TG1 broadcast the footage of the execution of Agha three and half weeks ago. The three men were captured in Helmand province on March 5.

The footage is from March 16, shot somewhere in the desert in Helmand province -- a Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan. It shows two pick-ups, with several Taliban fighters holding machine guns in the back. The vehicles drive off and arrive at two remote houses. According to the Italian commentary, this is where the three hostages were being held. After a brief stop, the pick-ups turn around.

In the next scene, the three hostages are seen kneeling, their eyes covered with blindfolds. The Italian journalist and his translator Naqshbani are close together, while Agha is to the side.

One of the men, possibly the leader of this Taliban group, his face covered with a scarf, reads a text and points to the driver. "This spy brought these two men with him. Now the spy will be punished with death," he says, adding -- presumably for the benefit of the Italian government -- "If you do not meet our demands, we will kill the other two."

Mastrogiacomo can be seen raising his head, as if he wants to look through his blindfold to see what is happening right next to him. A Taliban fighter raises a big knife and drags Agha to the ground. At that point TG1 stops the footage. The newsreader then says that after the execution the Taliban shook each others' hands and clapped each other on the back.

"Please do something for us!"

Mastrogiacomo and Naqshbandi are then shown at a different location. Several Taliban point machine guns at the Italian journalist and his blindfold is removed. He then begins to direct an appeal to his homeland: "Today is March 16, 2007. The Taliban have killed one of us, the situation is terrible. I call on the Christian charity of my government, on Prime Minister Prodi and Foreign Minister D'Alema. Please do everything possible to help us, we are in an extremely difficult situation. Please do something for us at once!" He stumbles over his words, saying over and over: "Please, at once, please, at once."

The tape ends here. Mastrogiacomo and his translator Naqshbandi were then brought back to the hide-out. Three days later, the Italian was released in exchange for five Taliban prisoners. Then, last Sunday, the 24-year-old Afghan translator was killed by his captors.

The editor-in-chief of TG1 has defended the decision to broadcast the video, saying that he wanted to make people think about what life is like in the Taliban-controlled regions of Afghanistan, and why Italian troops are there.

Naqshbandi's body was found on Tuesday evening and was flown to Kabul and handed over to his family for burial on Wednesday. Hundreds of people attended his funeral in Kabul, where his brother-in-law Mussadaq said: "For a foreigner, they can release five Taliban, but for a local and a Muslim they can't release any."

The Italian ambassador to Afghanistan, Ettore Francesco Sequi, was waiting at Kabul airport when Naqshbandi's body arrived. He said that Prime Minister Romano Prodi had written a letter of condolence to the man's family.

Political storm in Italy

Since the Taliban announced the murder on Sunday, a political storm has broken out in Italy. The right-wing opposition has demanded that the Prodi government explain why they were able to get Mastrogiacomo released but not his Afghan translator. And the government is also being harshly criticized for making a deal with the Taliban at all. The leader of the opposition, Silvio Berlusconi, however, called on his party colleagues to stop their attacks on Prodi. He said it was a matter of Italy's reputation.

The Italian parliament is due to discuss the hostage issue on Thursday and Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema has said he will explain exactly how Mastrogiacomo's release was secured. The opposition has already called for an inquiry and the deal has been criticized by Afghan lawmakers and foreigners working in the country as an incentive for militants to carry out more kidnappings.

There is also a continuing dispute between the government in Kabul and the Italian aid group Emergency, which played a key role in negotiating the Italian reporter's release. Emergency announced Wednesday that it had pulled 38 of its foreign aid workers out of the country to protest the fact that one of its Afghan employees, Rahmatullah Hanefi, has been sitting in an Afghan jail for three weeks. He has been accused by Afghan intelligence officers of cooperating with the Taliban in the capture of the three men.

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