Kabul (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A Christian female British aid worker was abducted in northeastern Afghanistan along with three Afghan co-workers, this according to the British Foreign Office. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the kidnappers want to swap the abducted air worker for a terrorist.
“We are working closely with all the relevant local authorities,” a spokeswoman for the Foreign Office said, without going into details.
The woman, 36, from Scotland, has worked in Afghanistan for several years, and was employed by Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI). She and her three Afghan colleagues were taken prisoners as they travelled in two vehicles in northeastern Kunar province.
Sources told AsiaNews that the four were taken into nearby mountains. Afghan forces with the assistance of tribal leaders and NATO troops are sweeping the area searching for them.
British sources said that police engaged the kidnappers in a brief gunfight, but the latter were able to slip away. The region is mountainous and covered in thick forests hampering the rescue efforts.
“Locals are working hard to secure the prisoners’ release,” a source said. “They are trying to get people with influence to do something.”
No one has yet claimed responsibility for the abduction but officials in Kunar suspect a local commander known as Maulavi Abdul Basir is behind it.
DAI spokesperson Steven O'Connor dismissed suggestions the missing four got lost. “The woman who appears to have been kidnapped is one of our veterans. She is a complete professional and has many years of experience.”
Police remains optimistic about getting the hostages released or freed within 24 hours. Major Maqsoud Padshah, police chief in the district where the abduction took place, said NATO moved in right away, “worried that if they waited to send in a delegation of tribal elders to talk, then maybe they would take her to Pakistan.” Instead, “they have sent Special Forces here and an operation has begun.”
Kunar’s border with Pakistan's tribal areas is virtually un-policed and is criss-crossed by trails and supply routes used by numerous insurgent factions and smugglers. Other areas in Pakistan are deemed rebel strongholds, and are hard to get at.
An Afghan press agency with close ties to the Taliban said Taliban are demanding in exchange Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist with alleged links to al-Qaeda. Last week, she was sentenced in New York to 86 years for the attempted murder of US soldiers and US agents who had been interrogating her in Afghanistan.
Siddiqui's imprisonment caused fury in Pakistan, with people protesting on the streets and burning effigies of US President Barack Obama.
The British embassy in Kabul has refused to discuss the press agency report.
DAI’s O'Connor said, "At the moment, we cannot entirely rule out the claims of the Afghan Press agency”. He added however to wait the outcome of the operation by NATO Special Forces.
The kidnapping comes as the parents of British doctor Karen Woo, who was murdered in Afghanistan last month, spoke for the first time about their loss.
Lynn and Tehaun Woo said their daughter, who had been working with an international charity, knew the risks being in Afghanistan, but was compelled to help people.