The Taleban say they have captured an Italian journalist who they claim was spying for British troops in southern Afghanistan. Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica has confirmed Tuesday it has lost contact with its reporter in Afghanistan.
Italian Deputy Foreign Minister Franco Danieli told parliament Tuesday that La Repubblica newspaper has not been able to make contact since Sunday with its correspond ent in Afghanistan, Daniele Mastrogiacomo, 53.
Danieli added that the paper said journalist had traveled from Kabul to Kandahar for his job. Italian colleagues in Afghanistan confirmed that Mastrogiacomo was planning to make contact with the Taleban in the turbulent south of the country, where British and Canadian forces operate.
Danieli said the journalist's family members were informed and that all efforts were being made by the foreign ministry and Italian embassy in Kabul to find the reporter.
The deputy foreign minister also said that a statement attributed to the Taleban was released in Kabul claiming that the group had captured a journalist from La Repubblica and accused him of being a spy.
Taleban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yousuf said the reporter had confessed to spying. He added that two Afghans were also captured. These are believed to be the interpreter and driver working with the Italian journalist. They were all reportedly traveling together by vehicle Monday in Nad Ali district of Helmand province.
NATO-led troops launched their largest ever offensive against Taleban militants on Tuesday in the volatile southern Afghan province of Helmand, where hundreds of militant fighters have amassed. The Afghan government has little control over many parts of northern Helmand, and foreign troops stationed there have been fighting almost-daily battles with militants.
U.S. intelligence officials say Taleban fighters have flooded into Helmand in recent months, and that there are now more fighters in that province than any other part of the country.
Meanwhile in Italy, some parliamentarians expressed concern over the coincidence of the abduction of the Italian journalist just as the parliament is examining and preparing to vote on the extension of Italian military mission in Afghanistan. Italy has 1,800 troops stationed in the country.