Freethemedia20 2007-10-07 18:23:39
Alleged MI6 death plot exposed
By Amil Khan Middle East Times staff
A British journalist who was captured for 10 days by the Taliban last
September claims her own government tried to convince Taliban
officials that she was a spy. Yvonne Ridley, who works for the Sunday
in the face of anti-war critics.
In her book In the hands of the Taliban, Ridley relates how she, like
nearly 3,000 other journalists, arrived in Pakistan while the rubble
at ground zero in New York was still smouldering.
American President George W. Bush had just told the world that he
would consider those harboring Osama Bin Laden, the prime suspect, as
guilty as the man himself.
Bush had clearly been referring to the Taliban and no one doubted that
the mysterious semi-medieval group would face the full extent of
American wrath if it didn’t hand over a man its leaders considered an
Talking to the Middle East Times, Ridley explained that she was
unwilling to be “spoon-fed” information by the authorities. Instead of
hearing second-hand reports from fleeing refugees and aid workers
about conditions inside Afghanistan, she decided to venture into the
country to see what was happening beyond the Pakistani border.
The Taliban had thrown out Western reporters days earlier, but the
BBC’s John Simpson had sneaked into the country disguised as a woman
wearing a black burkha. Ridley attempted to do the same but was
discovered by a Taliban patrol outside the eastern Afghan city of
As the news of Ridley’s capture flashed across the globe, the guessing
began immediately. What would the Taliban do with a female Western
Only days after the attacks of September 11, the American and British
media had been full of stories about the Taliban’s harsh treatment of
women and their distrust of Westerners. With this in mind, many
commentators predicted the worst for Ridley.
Shortly after Ridley’s capture, the Taliban announced that they
suspected her of espionage and would be carrying out an investigation.
Newspapers in Britain began talking about Ridley as if she were
already dead. Her career and life were highlighted in the press. Some
writers criticized her decision to enter Afghanistan on the basis that
as a single mother with a young child she had more pressing concerns
than career progression.
In many people’s minds Ridley was a lost cause. Accused of spying by
the Taliban, it seemed as if it was only a matter of time before she
would be executed.
Ridley says that the “demonization” of the Taliban in the American and
British press after September 11 made it seem to most people that she
would not be leaving Afghanistan alive.
However, according to Ridley, she was treated relatively well, with
“respect” and “courtesy.” She says, “The Taliban never harmed me
physically. They tried instead to use mind games to get the
information they wanted.”
On the fourth day the guards left Ridley to herself. “This was the
most terrifying time,” she says. “I thought they had made up their
minds that I was a spy.”
On that day, the Taliban had received a file. The same file had been
sent to several journalists, including the London offices of the
independent Arabic TV news channel Al Jazeera.
The file contained documents related to Ridley’s taxes and income as
well as documents that stated she was an MI6 agent and her ex-husband
was an agent for Mossad, the Israeli security service.
According to Ridley, some of the documents were authentic while others
were fabricated. On her release, she was able to fully examine the
copy of the file that was sent to Al Jazeera and realized that it also
contained family photos that she had in her home in London.
“It had to have come from British intelligence,” she told the Middle
The reason Ridley claims British intelligence would try to convince
the Taliban that she was a spy had to do with pubic opinion in
“A friend told me on my return, ‘if you had come home in a box it
would have silenced the anti-war critics’,” she said.
However, if that was the intention behind giving the file to the
Taliban, it failed. Ridley says the Taliban authorities understood
that they were being duped, that someone wanted them to harm her and
finally realized that she was, after all, only a journalist.
Also, Ridley’s editors were in contact with Taliban officials
attempting to prove that she was a journalist. They provided her
captors with some of her previous articles as proof.
Ridley says the British government failed to provide her with adequate
assistance. When her release was finally agreed, the Taliban agreed to
hand her over at the Pakistani border to waiting British officials.
Ridley says the British authorities complicated the process and
jeopardized her safety by not sending any officials to the border.
After some confusion, Ridley was released to Pakistani officials.
The British Foreign Office denied Ridley’s version of events. The
British High Commission in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, “acted
tirelessly on her [Ridley’s] behalf,” a spokeswoman told the Middle
She then went on to explain that High Commission staff had offered to
go to the border post for the handover but the High Commissioner,
Hilary Synott, had deemed the area too risky. The spokeswoman added
with a twinge of resentment, “She thanks so many people in her book,
it’s a shame she can’t bring herself to acknowledge our role [in her
However, the spokeswoman was unwilling to comment on MI6’s
involvement. “We don’t comment on intelligence matters no matter how
absurd we think the claims being made are,” she said.
Mark Laffey, a lecturer in international politics at London’s School
of Oriental and African Studies, told the Middle East Times that he
was cynical about Ridley’s claims. Talking about a plan to get a
British journalist killed for public relations purposes Laffey said,
“I doubt ideas of that sort reached the level of conscious discussion
In any case, the U.K. and the U.S. had decided on their course of
action; a small shift in public opinion was not going to make a
difference either way.”
“It would be better to have her alive and back She would have
valuable information on the Taliban’s structure and morale, among
other things,” thought Thomas Withington, of King’s College, London.
Withington, a doctoral student on the Taliban, is one of Britain’s
leading authorities on the former government of Afghanistan. He said
it would be difficult to see why MI6 would want Ridley dead.
He also pointed out that if the British government wanted to create an
anti-Taliban feeling in the country, “it could just release some of
the pictures of massacres and public executions carried out by the
Taliban. You can find these on the Internet.”
Al Jazeera’s Britain and Ireland correspondent, Nasir Bedri, was one
of the journalists who received ‘the Ridley file’. He told the Middle
East Times, that the information and documents in it had been
collected by “intelligence sources” but it was “very difficult to
figure out if she was a spy or not it’s very difficult to prove she
was framed You just end up with her word against theirs.”
However, Bedri had a different view from Laffey about the British
public’s reaction to the bombing in Afghanistan. The impression that
the vast majority of the public supported the bombings was very
misleading “news organizations were given an editorial line by the
government. They became a propaganda tool,” he said.
One thing was clear in Bedri’s mind: “Whoever released the file had
Two days after speaking to the Middle East Times, Ridley was attacked
in central London. She was hit on the back of the head and her bag,
containing money, personal effects, her passport and notes for a story
related to the Middle East, was snatched.
She told the Middle East Times: “I would like to think it was a plain
old mugging ”