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Yvonne Ridley, the British journalist captured by the Taliban, this week makes the extraordinary claim that Western intelligence agencies tried to get her killed to bolster public support for the air strikes on Afghanistan.
In her new book, In The Hands of the Taliban, published tomorrow, Express journalist Ms Ridley, 43, says despite her release from captivity she still has “unfinished business” surrounding her time in Afghanistan.
She claims that on her return to Pakistan she found her hotel room had been searched. In London, the locks on her Soho flat had apparently been tampered with. A journalist on the Arab TV station Al Jazeera then showed her a collection of as yet unverified documents. They purported to be copies of a dossier of personal and financial papers and pictures.
When told they had been handed to the Taliban, Ms Ridley asked: “Who the hell was trying to get me shot?”
With the help of prominent QC Michael Mansfield, the Al Jazeera journalist, Nacer Bedri, and contacts in the security and intelligence services, Ms Ridley is now trying to piece together what happened.
She says the documents were photocopies of genuine-looking Inland Revenue tax returns and the title deeds to a previous London home owned by her. There was also a copy of an Israeli passport belonging to her third husband, Hermosh, along with a Mossad code number and ID card also said to belong to him. The figures in the financial documents were exaggerated, Ms Ridley said. Also in the bundle was a photograph of Ms Ridley, Hermosh and her daughter Daisy, now aged nine, “taken on a river in Iran when you entered the country illegally”.
Ms Ridley’s book says: “I looked at the picture again and initially laughed, when I realised it had been taken in October 1998 in Stratford-upon-Avon. Then an awful feeling came to my stomach and I wanted to vomit. I remembered where I had last seen that picture–in my top drawer at my new flat in Soho. I had kicked out Husband No 3 a couple of weeks after those pictures were taken; they weren’t developed until later–after he had gone. So who had been in my flat?”
Ms Ridley is convinced the intelligence services must have somehow been involved–and has vowed to prove it. “Without giving too much away, I can say the matter isn’t going to rest,” she said yesterday.
The publication of her book and the claims it makes are certain to throw Ms Ridley back into the spotlight–a place that has not been particularly comfortable for her since she was captured by the Taliban on 28 September and after her release on 8 October.
Ms Ridley was lambasted for making a “foolhardy” decision to go into Afghanistan with a number of commentators accusing her of being “selfish” for taking such a risk as a single mother.
Others raised questions about Ms Ridley’s time in Afghanistan, one report claiming that rather than being captured in the country where she was carrying out a newspaper investigation; she was picked up over the border in Pakistan and had never entered Afghanistan.
On her return, Ms Ridley was criticised for failing to pay enough attention in her account of her ordeal to the two guides–then still in prison–captured helping her or the aid workers held alongside her. Early reviews of her book were far from flattering. But Ms Ridley is determined to get to the bottom of her own story.