Do Not Try This at Home: Times Reporter’s Taliban Kidnap Escape

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Journalist David Rohde, being embraced by his nephew, after returning from captivity ... in 1995, when he was a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor. Back then Rohde was held by Bosnian Serbs. Photo: Getty Images

Pulitzer Prize–winning Times journalist David Rohde was held hostage for seven months by the Taliban before conditions aligned for him to make a safe escape. To manage his sneaky exit, he and his fellow journalist accomplice, Tahir Ludin, bode their time until a night when the power in the city where they were being held remained on, so that noisy air conditioners would muffle the sounds of their escape. They also had to make sure their guards would be fast asleep, so they waited for a night when they could keep their fellow prisoners up late with games. And they had to make sure they'd seen enough of the surrounding environs (through visits to doctors with faked illnesses and begged-for trips to watch sporting events) before they made their move. But once the time was right, they moved quickly. Ludin told the Times about their plot:

At 1 a.m., Mr. Rohde woke Mr. Ludin and sneaked out of the room. Mr. Ludin recited several verses of the Koran and followed him. They made their way to the second floor, and Mr. Ludin got to the top of a five-foot-high wall. When Mr. Ludin looked down, he said, he was greeted by an unnerving view: a 20-foot drop. Mr. Rohde handed Mr. Ludin a rope that he had found two weeks earlier and had hidden from the guards. They fastened the rope to the wall, and Mr. Ludin lowered himself along the rope before unclenching his fists for good. He crashed to the ground, leaving him with a sprained right foot and other injuries. He cut his foot, he said, pointing to his swollen and heavily bruised ankle and his bandaged big toe. Mr. Rohde then lowered himself along the wall and jumped down without injury.

When the pair eventually reached a Pakistani military outpost, they were held at gunpoint and suspected of being suicide bombers. But after fifteen minutes of conversation, they were able to convince the men of who they were, and were taken to safety.

This is not the only time Rohde has been held hostage: In 1995, when he was a reporter at the Christian Science Monitor, he was held captive by Bosnian Serbs for ten days. A press conference by his desperate family eventually secured his release. This time, though, the opposite approach worked: Though the New York Times knew about his kidnapping, and it was reported in a few places, the paper worked hard to keep his situation under wraps. As early as the end of 2008, the Times was asking other news outlets to refrain from covering Rohde's kidnapping, for fear that increased scrutiny might jeopardize his life. The muzzle order was surprisingly well obeyed across the board, and the story wasn't widely publicized until his escape on Saturday.

With Plan and a Rope, Captives Fled From Taliban [NYT]