Britain was looking into reports Tuesday that a British man has been kidnapped in the volatile south of Afghanistan, officials said, as the Taliban claimed to have captured a Briton and two Afghans.
A Taliban spokesman claimed the hard-line militia had detained the Briton - whom he did not name - and two Afghans as they traveled together by vehicle Monday in Nad Ali district of Helmand province.
"Taliban higher authorities" will decide what to do with them, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, who claims to speak for the Taliban told The Associated Press by satellite phone from an undisclosed location. "We are investigating whether they are British spies."
He identified the Afghans as Sayed Agha and Ajmal. He gave only one name for the second Afghan.
Ahmadi claimed the Briton had used to work for the Italian newspaper La Repubblica in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, but had been living with British forces in Helmand and gathering information for them while pretending to be a journalist.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair's official spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity according to government policy, said the Foreign Office is investigating the claims. He said it was too early to be sure whether reports that a British freelance reporter and two Afghans had been kidnapped were correct, the AP said.
Adding to the confusion, the Italian Foreign Ministry said that since Sunday the Rome newspaper La Repubblica has lost contact with Daniele Mastrogiacomo, its journalist in Afghanistan, and the ministry and Italian Embassy in Kabul were trying to locate the reporter.
Afghan officials had no immediate information on the reported kidnapping.
Most of the NATO-led troops in Helmand province are British, and the alliance on Tuesday launched an offensive against militants in the northern part of Helmand, a Taliban stronghold.
The Americans came to realise that they would have to either leave the region or weaken their presence there. It is Russia that is filling the vacuum now