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Journalist Missing After Reporting Al Qaeda Death

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

A journalist has been kidnapped in Pakistan after he tried to report on a campaign against al-Qaeda. Hayatullah Khan had been working in the tribal regions along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. He was reporting on the death of an al-Qaeda commander and four others in an attack and he had been seen taking photographs of an American missile believed to have been used in that attack. We get more on this story from NPR South Asia correspondent Philip Reeves.

PHILIP REEVES reporting:

Few journalists are able to get into the lawless tribal areas along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, but Hayatullah Khan is one of them. He's been covering the conflict between Pakistani forces and al-Qaeda and Taliban militants concealed within the mountains. Just over a week ago, a big story broke. Pakistani officials said a key al-Qaeda operative, an Egyptian called Abu Hamza Rabia, was dead. It's still unclear exactly how important Rabia was. Pakistan says he was one of al-Qaeda's top five operatives. President Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, sounded pleased when he spoke to "Fox News Sunday."

(Soundbite of "Fox News Sunday")

Mr. STEPHEN HADLEY (National Security Adviser): Well, Hamza Rabia is a bad guy. He's become the head of operations for al-Qaeda. So if he has indeed been killed, that is a good thing for the war on terror. It's part of the effort to kill or capture the major al-Qaeda leadership.

REEVES: Pakistani officials have said Rabia was blown up with four others by their own explosives which accidentally issues inside a house in Waziristan. But, says Vincent Brossel of Reporters Without Borders, when Khan, the reporter, went to the scene, he found a different story.

Mr. VINCENT BROSSEL (Reporters Without Borders): He discovered that this Arab jihadist was killed by a missile and apparently this missile was an American--I mean, a US-made missile.

REEVES: Khan works for several media organizations in Pakistan, including the English-language Nation newspaper, and also for outlets in the West. His photographs of the missile were soon widely circulated. So were allegations quoting residents that the missile may have been fired from an American unmanned drone. Vincent Brossel again.

Mr. BROSSEL: All this evidence has put a lot of attention on a very sensitive and crucial point for Pakistan. The point is that the US are not participating in the fight against terrorism in the Pakistani territory. That's a very sensitive issue in Pakistan.

REEVES: If this turns out to be true, it won't be the first time. The United States has done it before. In 2002, for example, the CIA killed six suspects with a rocket fired from an unmanned predator flying over Yemen.

No one knows for sure who kidnapped Khan. Activists are urging the authorities to hunt them down. They say he could've been taken by militants. But they also suspect Pakistan's security forces. Pakistan's information minister, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, won't comment on this.

Mr. SHEIKH RASHID AHMED (Pakistani Information Minister): I don't know. I don't have any information about this.

REEVES: But he does adamantly deny any US military actions take place on Pakistani soil.

Mr. AHMED: You know, we don't allow any foreign troops to take any operation, any action. All the action whatsoever and whosoever and wheresoever it may be done by the Pakistani forces.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, New Delhi.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.