Gunmen kidnap Christian hospital staff

2012-02-29 12:42

Karachi - Gunmen on Wednesday abducted two Pakistani Christians working for a South Korean-run hospital in a violent slum area of the country's largest city Karachi, police said.

Kidnappings by criminal groups for ransom are relatively common in the nuclear-armed country and victims can be sold onto Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked militant groups based along the north-western Afghan border.

Four armed men stopped a car taking local staff to the Good Samaritan Hospital in the western neighbourhood of Orangi, an impoverished area that was last year hard hit by political and ethnically linked shootings.

"They asked the occupants: 'Who is Korean among you?'" said local police station chief Sabir Khan. "They replied: 'None of us.'

"However they snatched two hospital employees - a computer operator and an administration assistant. Both are members of the Pakistani Christian community, and fled in a car."

Driver fled

No foreigners were in the vehicle that was stopped, Khan said.

"We have sent teams to track down the kidnappers and recover the staff members," he added.

Male nurse Austin John, a 30-year-old Pakistani, said he had narrowly escaped being kidnapped along with his colleagues.

"A blue car intercepted us and four men who looked Pashtun from the northwest came out. They ordered us to get out and asked: 'Who is Korean among you?'" he said.

Their driver fled and the three hospital staff members were bundled toward the kidnappers' car, John said.

"But there wasn't enough space and they dropped me. One of them said 'shoot him in the back' but I got unexpected courage and ran for safety behind the van and shouted for help. They fled," he said.

The Good Samaritan Hospital treats mostly poor Pakistanis and has been run by a South Korean charity for more than a decade, one of its doctors said.

Christian minority

Five foreign aid and development workers have gone missing or been kidnapped across Pakistan since August, and the doctor said on condition of anonymity that there had been rising concerns about security at the hospital.

Two months ago, a South Korean affiliated to a nearby church was shot and wounded, and three years ago a local employee was briefly abducted but released unharmed, she said by telephone.

"But this is the first time that our employees have been abducted in an armed hold-up like this," she said.

"There were no direct threats to the hospital, but we had felt insecure over the past few months and police beefed up security."

Ten doctors work at the Good Samaritan Hospital, six of them foreigners, and the clinic treats mostly poor Pakistanis for a nominal fee.

The country director of Save the Children has said more expat aid workers are being held captive in Pakistan than in any other country in the world.

There is a tiny Christian minority in Pakistan, where only 3% of the population of 174 million are estimated to be non-Muslim and where the Vatican has said Christians are often victims of violence and discrimination.

Targeted killings in Karachi have been linked to ethnic tensions between the Mohajirs, the Urdu-speaking majority represented by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, and Pashtun migrants affiliated to the Awami National Party.