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US Makes an Arrest in 2008 Taliban Kidnapping of US Journalist

Over a decade after militants in Afghanistan kidnapped an American journalist and two colleagues at gunpoint, holding the trio hostage for nearly a year, U.S. authorities announced Wednesday that they have arrested and charged a onetime Taliban commander in the crime.

MANHATTAN (CN) — Over a decade after militants in Afghanistan kidnapped an American journalist and two colleagues at gunpoint, holding the trio hostage for nearly a year, U.S. authorities announced Wednesday that they have arrested and charged a onetime Taliban commander in the crime. 

Filed in the Southern District of New York, the unsealed indictment charges Afghan national Haji Najibullah with six counts related to the 2008 kidnapping of Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist David Rohde, Afghan journalist and interpreter Tahir Ludin, and their driver, Asad Mangal. 

Najibullah, 44, is charged with hostage taking, conspiracy to commit hostage taking, kidnapping, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, and two counts of using and possessing a machinegun in furtherance of crimes of violence. He faces a possible life sentence on each of the six counts.

“The prosecution of Haji Najibullah shows that law enforcement will never stop in our mission to hold accountable those who commit violent crimes against American citizens,” Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said Wednesday. 

Rohde was traveling with Ludin and Mangal to a meeting with a Taliban commander known as Abu Tayeb for an interview outside Kabul in November 2008 when Najibullah and his co-conspirators, armed with AK-47 style machine guns, abducted the three men, the indictment states. 

Five days later, around Nov. 15, 2008, the militant captors forced the three hostages to hike across the border from Afghanistan to the tribal areas of Pakistan, where Najibullah and his co-conspirators detained the hostages in Afghanistan and for seven months and 10 days. 

According to the indictment, Najibullah forced the three captured men to record ransom videos begging for their lives at gunpoint. 

Rohde, who escaped by climbing down a 20-foot wall on a rope while his captors were asleep after a late night of playing boardgames, detailed his experience of being held hostage by his Taliban in an October 2009 story for the Times.  

FILE — This June 22, 2009 file photo shows Afghan journalist Tahir Ludin, who was held captive with New York Times reporter David Rohde, in his home in Kabul, Afghanistan, during an interview with The Associated Press. An Afghan man, Haji Najibullah, has been brought to the United States to face charges in the 2008 gunpoint kidnapping of a journalist for The New York Times and two other men in Afghanistan, federal authorities announced Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Rahim Faiez, File)

Najibullah was arrested and transferred to the United States from Ukraine to face the charges in the indictment. Where or when Najibullah was taken into custody remains unclear. He will be presented at the Manhattan federal courthouse Wednesday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ona T. Wang.   

According to a Times report from 2014, Najibullah led a group described as a radical spinoff of the Taliban with a history of targeting journalists.

The complaint also names Timor Shah as co-defendant on the six counts.

“Najibullah’s alleged reprehensible actions over a decade ago earned him a flight to the U.S. yesterday,” FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said this afternoon regarding the charges. “Today he arrived in U.S. federal court to face our justice system.”  

John C. Demers, assistant attorney general for national security, acknowledged the dangers that journalists like Rohde face when reporting from foreign hotspots.

“Journalists risk their lives bringing us news from conflict zones, and no matter how much time may pass, our resolve to find and hold accountable those who target and harm them and other Americans will never wane,” Demers said Wednesday. 

The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Katherine Polk Failla. 

In addition to his reporting at the Times, Rohde is also former reporter for Reuters and the Christian Science Monitor. He is currently an executive editor of newyorker.com.  

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