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Pakistani journalist has been kidnapped, his family says

PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- A Pakistani journalist has been kidnapped after photographing the metal remnants of what appeared to be a US missile that killed a senior Al Qaeda leader last week, his family says.

Only a day before his disappearance Monday, Hayatullah Khan expressed fears that intelligence agencies might take action against him for sending his pictures to Pakistani and international media organizations, the journalist's elder brother, Ihsanullah Khan, said Wednesday.

Five masked men armed with AK-47 assault rifles abducted Hayatullah Khan in the town of Mir Ali, about 18 miles north of Miranshah, administrative capital of the North Waziristan tribal area on the border with Afghanistan, witnesses said.

The journalist was heading toward a checkpoint east of Mir Ali to cover a student protest when the gunmen stopped his car. They whisked him away in another vehicle.

The Al Qaeda operative, whom Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf identified as Abu Hamza Rabia, an Egyptian, was killed Dec. 1 when an explosion destroyed a mud-brick compound in the village of Asoray, east of Miranshah. Rabia was believed to be commander of Al Qaeda's international operations.

Local residents said four other people died in the blast -- two Arabs also believed to be members of Al Qaeda and two members of a local Pashtun tribe, one of whom was a 7-year-old boy.

Musharraf said the blast occurred when Rabia was making bombs from explosives stored in the house. Pakistani authorities insisted the compound had not been attacked.

But residents of Asoray said that the explosion was caused by a missile fired from a US unmanned aerial vehicle.

They said that metal pieces of the missile, photos of which Khan filed to the European Pressphoto Agency, were inscribed with the English words ''guided missile."

In Khan's pictures, the fragments are also marked ''AGM-114," the US military's designator for the laser-guided Hellfire missile, which is carried on the remote-controlled Predator aircraft. The initials ''US" also appeared on the shrapnel in photos filed by Khan, who also works for Pakistan's Urdu-language daily newspaper Ausaf and the English-language daily The Nation.

US counterterrorism operations in Pakistan are a sensitive political issue for Musharraf, who is under pressure from hard-line Islamic groups and nationalists who feel he has gone too far in supporting the United States.

A witness to Khan's abduction said his kidnappers looked like Taliban fighters, but his brother and local journalists said it was impossible that members of the fundamentalist Muslim militia had carried out the abduction.

''We have been assured by the Taliban that they have nothing to do with the kidnapping of Hayatullah," his brother said by phone from Mir Ali. Ihsanullah Khan added that he could not blame a specific group or agency for kidnapping the journalist.

The Pakistani military's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency is frequently accused of harassing journalists and detaining Pakistanis without charge. But senior government officials in Peshawar denied that intelligence agencies were involved in Khan's disappearance.

''We understand the situation in the tribal territory is not very favorable for journalists, but it doesn't mean that any secret agency is involved in his abduction," said Shah Zaman Khan, spokesman for the governor of North West Frontier Province.

Lucie Morillon, Washington representative for media rights group Reporters Without Borders, said that US forces had arrested Khan ''when he was trying to cover Al Qaeda and Taliban activity in the border region."

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