Monday, September 27, 2010

News from the front

Taliban claims abduction of British aid worker, demands US prisoner swap

A Taliban commander claimed responsibility Monday for the kidnap of a female British aid worker in Afghanistan and offered to exchange her for a female Pakistani scientist jailed in the U.S. last week, according to a report in The (London) Daily Telegraph.

The woman, who has not been identified, was abducted along with two Afghan drivers and an Afghan guard after their convoy was ambushed by suspected insurgents in a volatile part of eastern Afghanistan at around 10:30am local time Sunday.

A Taliban militant named Mohammad Osman told Pakistan-based press agency the Afghan Islamic Press that he had kidnapped the group, according to the Telegraph.

He demanded that they be exchanged for Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani scientist sentenced to 86 years in prison last Thursday for trying to kill American officials.

The MIT-educated neuroscientist, 38, was found guilty of two counts of attempted murder for grabbing a U.S. soldier’s rifle and firing on soldiers and FBI agents while she was detained in Ghazni, Afghanistan, in 2008.

Osman told the Afghan Islamic Press, “We are lucky that we abducted this British woman soon after the ruthless ruling by an American court on Aafia Siddiqui. We will demand the release of Aafia Siddiqui in exchange for her.”

The British embassy in Kabul refused to discuss the credibility of the report, although officials from the U.S. and Britain were understood to be contacted about it.

The embassy earlier confirmed a British national was missing in Afghanistan. “The Embassy, working with other internationals, is urgently investigating the reports,” a spokeswoman said.

The British woman involved in the abduction is believed to be unmarried and in her thirties. She was working for American aid organization Development Alternatives International (DAI).

Local news agencies said that the DAI team was en route to an opening ceremony at a canal rehabilitation project, funded by the U.S., in the Narang district of Kunar, when the attack occurred.

Officers chased after the kidnappers and were involved in a brief gun battle before the men escaped, Sky News reported.

Police found two Toyota Corollas abandoned in Sirkanay district, which borders Pakistan, according to General Khalilullah Ziayee, the police chief in Kunar.

It is not clear why the woman was travelling by road, in what appear to have been unarmored saloon cars. Even in Kabul, most DAI staff use armored four-wheel drives with bodyguards, although some aid workers deliberately opt for a low-profile approach to avoid attracting attention.

The aid workers had not informed police about their movements, Ziayee said.

A spokesman for DAI said that the woman was working for it as an international development professional. The company, based in Washington, has offices around the world, including London.

Steven O’Connor, the director of communications, confirmed that they were “working on an abduction case involving DAI employees, one of whom is a British national,” but he gave no further details.

Local tribal elders are believed to be helping in the search for the missing group.

No comments: