By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) - An Afghan man pleaded not guilty on Monday in Manhattan federal court to six counts related to the 2008 kidnapping of a U.S. journalist and two Afghan nationals in Afghanistan.
Haji Najibullah faces charges including kidnapping, hostage taking, conspiracy, and using a machine gun to further violent crimes. Each count carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The indictment did not name the journalist, but a law enforcement official familiar with the matter told Reuters the case involved David Rohde, a former New York Times and Reuters correspondent who was kidnapped by the Taliban in 2008.
"Not guilty. I am not involved in any of this," Najibullah said through an interpreter at a hearing before U.S. District Judge Katherine Polk Failla.
The U.S. Department of Justice said that on Nov. 10, 2008, Najibullah and other co-conspirators carrying machine guns abducted Rohde and the two Afghans who were assisting him, and soon forced them to hike from Afghanistan to Pakistan.
Prosecutors said the victims were held captive for seven months, and Najibullah recorded a video of Rohde begging for help while the barrel of a machine gun was pointed at his face.
Rhode, a Pulitzer Prize winner who is now with the New Yorker, escaped in June 2009. http://blogs.reuters.com/chrystia-freeland/2011/07/01/pulitzer-winner-david-rohdes-hostage-experience
He has said the kidnapping came on a trip where he was to interview a Taliban commander, Abu Tayeb. Prosecutors said that name was one of Najibullah's aliases.
The indictment is dated June 2014, but was not unsealed until Oct. 28, after Najibullah had been arrested and moved to the United States from Ukraine to face the charges.
The case is U.S. v. Najibullah et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 14-cr-00401.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Nick Macfie)