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Pakistan urged to investigate reporter's death

Written by: Staff
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ISLAMABAD, June 17 (Reuters) An international press freedom group has called for a full investigation into the killing of a Pakistani journalist, abducted last year after reporting that an al Qaeda leader had been killed by a US missile.

The journalist, Hayatullah Khan, was found dead yesterday.

He had been shot in the back of the head, probably on Thursday, and dumped in mountains outside the town of Mir Ali, in the North Waziristan region on the Afghan border, an official said.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on the Pakistani government to find those responsible.

''The abduction and killing of Hayatullah must be fully explained,'' the group's executive director, Ann Cooper, said in a statement.

''We hold Pakistani authorities fully responsible for carrying out a vigorous investigation, and prosecuting the perpetrators of this terrible crime,'' she said.

Khan covered security issues for various publications including the Nation English-language newspaper and several foreign news organisations.

Unidentified gunmen abducted him in Mir Ali on December 5.

The deputy administrator of North Waziristan, Mohammad Fida Khan, told reporters in Mir Ali yesterday that Khan had been found wearing handcuffs. He looked frail and had a long beard, suggesting he had been held prisoner.

Shortly before his abduction Khan had reported on an explosion in a militant hideout near the Afghan border that killed Abu Hamza Rabia.

Authorities said Rabia was a senior al Qaeda leader and was killed on December 1 when explosives at the hideout went off accidentally.

But residents said the hideout was hit by a missile and Khan was the first reporter to photograph fragments found at the scene that appeared to be from a US missile.

One piece of casing seen by a Reuters reporter clearly showed the letters US and the word ''missile''.

THREATS, PROTEST Pakistan is a close ally in the U.S. war on terrorism but U.S. strikes on Pakistani soil are sensitive given considerable Pakistani opposition to US military involvement across the border in Afghanistan.

The CPJ said Khan had in the past been threatened by security forces, suspected Taliban members and tribesmen for his reporting.

US forces in Afghanistan detained him for five days in 2002, his colleagues said.

Pakistani reporters' groups have condemned Khan's killing.

Journalists and opposition members of parliament walked out of a National Assembly session in Islamabad today and held a protest outside the nearby Supreme Court to demand Khan's killers be caught.

Some protesters blamed the government for Khan's death and chanted anti-government slogans but Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao dismissed the criticism.

The government had done all it could to find Khan in the violence-plagued region, he said. ''We will hold an impartial inquiry and bring the killers to justice,'' Sherpao told reporters.

REUTERS SHB KP1453

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