OSLO – A Norwegian freelance journalist kidnapped a week ago in eastern Afghanistan has been released along with his Afghan interpreter, the Foreign Ministry said Thursday.
Journalist Paal Refsdal and an unnamed interpreter were freed Wednesday night after being abducted Nov. 5 near the border with Pakistan, Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said.
It is still unclear who abducted Refsdal and demanded $500,000 for his release, Stoere told journalists Thursday evening, adding that to his knowledge the demand was never met
"Norwegian authorities did not exchange money for the hostages," he said.
Stoere said Norwegian authorities had "worked intensely to free the two hostages" since learning Friday of their abduction, but he would not specify how the release was secured except to say it had been in a "nonviolent" fashion based "an Afghan solution" reached through unidentified "Afghan contacts."
The release came just in time, Stoere said, as there was reason to believe the hostages were on the verge of being either moved to a more dangerous area or transferred "to others with greater demands and more brutal tactics."
Refsdal had been filming a documentary for the Norwegian production company Novemberfilm, company producer Kjetil Johnsen said.
Johnsen said both Refsdal and the translator were uninjured, and that Refsdal was in the Afghan capital of Kabul and "in good spirits."
"This is a very good day for us and for his family," Johnsen told The Associated Press by telephone from Kabul, to where he said he traveled Monday "to do what little I could to help."
Stoere said the captors had Refsdal call Norway's embassy in Afghanistan on his cell phone to say he had been kidnapped — a common tactic among kidnappers in the region — and that Norwegian authorities in Kabul were in touch with both Refsdal and his kidnappers over the week.
The Norwegian news agency NTB reported that Refsdal is a 46-year-old veteran war journalist who reported from Kosovo during the Balkan conflict and from Afghanistan during the Soviet Union's invasion in the 1980s.
The documentary Refsdal was filming — "Den Andre Siden," or "The Other Side" — proposed to "follow three Afghans from a perspective not yet shown in Western media," giving "a better and more nuanced picture of Afghan society, but on the Afghans' terms," according to the Web site of the Norwegian Film Institute, which awarded Novemberfilm a $125,000 grant to produce the film.
Stoere arrived Tuesday in Afghanistan on a previously planned trip to meet with top Afghan and military officials, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Ragnhild Imerslund said.
The Pakistani newspaper The News reported Monday that Refsdal was being held by the Taliban in the eastern Kunar Province, considered one of the most dangerous areas of Afghanistan and a key spot for insurgent bases due to its mountainous terrain.
The Pakistani paper said Refsdal's captors had demanded the release of 12 Taliban prisoners and the withdrawal of Norwegian troops from the country.
The Norwegian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman declined to confirm the report, saying that it was "to be taken with a grain of salt."