Taliban Say British Journalist Has Been Released

A British journalist arrested last month after illegally entering Afghanistan was released Sunday, a senior Taliban official said. 

Yvonne Ridley, 43, a reporter for the Sunday Express, had been trying to report on conditions here following the crisis over U.S. demands to turn Usama bin Laden, held responsible by the United States for the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. 

"Today she has been released. She is free," Information Minister Qatradullah Jamal told the Associated Press in the Afghan capital, Kabul. 

He said Ridley had yet not left Kabul, and it was unclear whether she would leave the country Sunday. It is a six-hour drive from Kabul to the Pakistani border. 

Ridley was arrested south of the northeastern city of Jalalabad on Sept. 28 with two male Afghan guides. There was no immediate indication of what might happen to the Afghans. 

On Saturday, the Taliban said their leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, had ordered Ridley set free. Jamal said the order to release her came after a request for her freedom was made by the British Foreign Office to the Taliban embassy in Pakistan. 

Taliban authorities had said Ridley would be deported if officials confirmed she was a journalist and not a spy. 

"This lady came illegally to Afghanistan. She had no passport. She entered illegally wearing Afghan dress," Jamal said. He said Taliban intelligence had arrested her with local cooperation. 

She was taken first to Jalalabad and was transferred to Kabul on Saturday, Jamal said. 

The Taliban offered Saturday to release eight aid workers charged with preaching Christianity if the United States stopped threatening to attack Afghanistan in an attempt to apprehend bin Laden. 

However, the White House rejected the offer and demanded bin Laden and the aid workers be handed over unconditionally. The eight include four Germans, two Americans and two Australians working for the German-based Christian organization Shelter Now International. 

They were arrested in August. 

Last month, the Taliban ordered foreign reporters to leave the country after fears of American air strikes in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. Several, however, are reporting from northern Afghanistan in territory held by a northern alliance of opposition groups trying to unseat the Taliban.