Gabriele Torsello, who is also known as Kash, was freed at 1.30pm local time on the road to Kandahar.

The photographer said he had not seen daylight during his confinement and spent much of the time in chains.

"It has been quite an intense 22 days," he said.

"Today, thank God, someone told me to take off this scarf [blindfold] and I realised I was on my way back."

Torsello also thanked the Afghan and Italian authorities for helping to free him and said he regretted that his captors took his photographic equipment and photographs.

Marcio Secchi, a family friend who has been liaising with Torsello's family, thanked those who had been involved in release talks and said: "I have been talking to the family and obviously they are over the moon.

"They have asked me to thank all of you for what you have been doing in the last three weeks to help and secure Kash's freedom. They really feel that without your help, it would have been impossible for them. The support and the feeling of what you were doing for Kash has been of big help to them and they will never forget."

Secchi also thanked Lord Nazir Ahmed, a member of Britian's House of Lords, and Yvonne Ridley, a British journalist who was also captured while working in Afghanistan, for their efforts to secure Torsello's release.

Kidnapper demands

Torsello was kidnapped on October 12 while wearing traditional Afghan dress.

There had been particular concern for him as reports about who had taken him were confused.  

Torsello's kidnappers had asked for the withdrawal of Italy's 1,800 troops from Afghanistan and for the return of Abdul Rahman, an Afghan who had faced the death penalty for converting to Christianity and was granted asylum in Italy.

However Ettore Francesco Sequi, Italy's ambassador to Afghanistan, said that neither demand was met and that he did not think that a ransom was paid for Torsello's freedom.

He said pressure from local elders and the work of the Afghan authorities helped free Torsello.

John Toner, a National Union of Journalists freelance organiser, said: "This is wonderful news. Kash has been in our thoughts since the hour of his kidnap, and we have worked with his family to do everything possible to secure his release."