Hunt for kidnapped UK aid worker

2010-09-27 16:07

Jalalabad - Security forces were hunting on Monday for a British woman and three Afghans reportedly working for a US development group who were kidnapped in eastern Afghanistan, police said.

The woman is reportedly in her 30s, has worked in Afghanistan for several years and is considered very experienced. She is believed to have previously worked for the United Nations.

British media said the woman was working for US aid group DAI, a subcontractor of Washington's USAid, and was seized along with three local staff when their two-vehicle convoy was attacked in Kunar province.

Kunar borders Pakistan and is a hotbed of Taliban activity.

The British government confirmed that she was a British citizen, and said her family had been notified and had asked that she not be publicly identified.

The BBC quoted a "senior security official" saying the group had been taken to nearby mountains on foot, and the area was being searched with the help of tribal elders.

Gun fire exchanged

Kunar provincial police chief Khalilullah Ziayee said a search operation had been launched.

"They were on their way from (eastern town) Jalalabad to Kunar province in two Corolla cars," he said.

"We have received reports that the cars were stopped by Taliban... and one British and three Afghans were taken away. We are searching for them."

The US military, which has a heavy presence in the mountainous and heavily forested region, was also said to be involved in the search.

British newspaper reports said police had chased the kidnappers and exchanged gunfire before they escaped.

A spokesperson for the Foreign Office in London said, "We can confirm a British national has been abducted in Afghanistan."

Taliban claims responsibility

They did not give further details but added, "We are working closely with all the relevant local authorities. We are also in touch with the family and are providing consular assistance."

DAI spokesperson Steven O'Connor told the Daily Mail newspaper that resolving the incident was their "absolute first priority".

"The woman who appears to have been kidnapped is one of our veterans. She is a complete professional and has many years of experience."

A small Afghan news agency, which often carries Taliban statements and claims, said a local Taliban commander had claimed responsibility.

"It is not clear if this is legitimate," a British official said, speaking on condition that he not be named, adding the report was among a number of possibilities under investigation.

A spokesperson for the Taliban denied in an interview that the insurgents were responsible for the abductions.

"We are not aware of the British woman kidnapping," spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahed said during a telephonic from an unknown location.

Isaf offers assistance

Criminal groups and insurgents have kidnapped several dozen foreigners since the 2001 US-led invasion ousted the Taliban regime in Kabul. Victims are often sold on to insurgent groups.

The Taliban have initially denied responsibility for kidnappings in the past, apparently to give operatives time to reach secure locations.

Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), which has about 150 000 troops in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban, said it was willing to provide assistance to recover the missing people.

"If we are asked to provide support, we'll certainly do so," an Isaf spokesperson.

DAI has been targeted in the past by the Taliban, most recently in July when four people were killed in an attack on its premises in northern Kunduz province.

In August a 36-year-old British doctor, Karen Woo, was shot dead along with seven other foreign medical aid workers in the northeastern Afghan province of Badakhshan. Two Afghans were also killed in the attack.