Journalist Ridley says West wanted her dead
Reuters News Agency, 13 December 2001
LONDON -- It could be a chapter from "Scoop," novelist Evelyn Waugh's famous spoof in which a foreign correspondent gets into a tangle in a far-flung war.

Except British journalist Yvonne Ridley -- held captive in Afghanistan as U.S. bombs rained down -- insists her story of subterfuge and spies is real and the villain was the West, rather than the Taliban.

Ridley, of the Sunday Express, sneaked into Taliban-held territory illegally in late September hidden under the Burqa [the full body garment legislated for Afghani women by the Taliban], but was caught as she journeyed back to Pakistan. She was later released.

The 43-year-old, who is launching a book about her 10-day ordeal, accused Western intelligence services of trying to have her executed during her capture to boost public support for the U.S. bombing campaign in Afghanistan.

"I suppose that if I had been publicly executed for being a spy, that would have been a huge propaganda tool for the West to be used as a stick to beat anti-war people," she said.

The allegations, which appear in the final chapter of "In the Hands of the Taliban," were based on what Ridley said were false documents she had seen, suggesting she was a spy. She had no copies, but said the documents, and evidence that her apartment in London had been broken into during her assignment abroad, all pointed to foul play.

"I really don't know who tried to set me up. Was it the CIA, British intelligence, Mossad, a combination, or someone else?"

Ironically, Ridley believes that the attempt to have her killed may have saved her life. "They (the Taliban) felt sorry for me. Someone had tried to convince them I was a spy, and it was a very clumsy attempt."

She said the documents, including bank statements and details of a house sale, had apparently found their way into Taliban hands. They exaggerated her income, which she said reinforced suspicions that she was getting money from an intelligence service.

She added that copies of her ex-husband's Israeli passport, and an alleged code number linking him to Israel's Mossad secret service, were also supplied, as was a photograph of her with her husband and daughter, purporting to have been taken in Iran.

"This picture was actually taken in Stratford-upon-Avon (in England), but during Taliban questioning they said I had done this kind of thing before and had been to Iran under cover," she said.

Ridley first began to suspect foul play when she heard that the Qatari television network al-Jazeera, which had good access to the Taliban, had run two reports based on the documents, suggesting that she had been "used" by intelligence agencies.

She was shown copies of some of the paperwork by the network's London- based journalist, Nacer Bedri.

"We ran reports with some of the documents which we believed were genuine," Bedri said. "I was e-mailed the documents, and have shown some of them to Yvonne."

Ridley was widely vilified in the British press after her release from captivity, with her clandestine mission dismissed as "sheer folly" and "heroic idiocy."

The single mother, who went on a hunger strike and kept a secret diary while in captivity, has few regrets. "I regret getting on the donkey (on which her cover was blown) but I do not regret the whole thing," she said.

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