News and Information
Troops hunt Afghan kidnap victims
|October 29, 2004
| Afghan security forces and international peacekeepers have launched a manhunt for three foreign poll workers abducted on Thursday.
The three hostages - two women, a British-Irish national and a Kosovo Albanian, and a Filipino man, were seized at gunpoint in Kabul.
A group called the Army of Muslims says it is holding them outside Kabul.
On Friday its leader said the search must stop to allow negotiations for the release of the hostages to begin.
Syed Akbar Agha told the BBC's Rahimullah Yusufzai in a telephone call that the hostages were safe so far.
He said his group's council had met to discuss its demands but that these would not be made public until the search was called off.
The demands would include the release of Afghan prisoners being held in Afghanistan and in the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Mr Agha said.
He said a videotape was being prepared to show his group had carried out the kidnapping of Annetta Flanigan from Northern Ireland, Filipino Angelito Nayan and Kosovar Shqipe Habibi.
Afghan authorities detained three suspects on Friday but could not yet say they were linked to the kidnappers.
Interior ministry spokesman, Lutfullah Mashal, said the suspects, held in Kabul, resembled eyewitness descriptions and had illegal weapons.
It's an ominous development... we are still trying to figure out if it is a new trend or a one-off
Army of Muslims
Northern Ireland hostage
He said: "I cannot tell you if they were linked to the kidnappers but we hope these arrests will help us find the right people."
Heavily armed troops have set up roadblocks across Kabul and are searching for the hostages through neighbourhoods.
Apache helicopters from the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) are said to be leading aerial searches.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Friday condemned the abduction, calling it a criminal act.
"Kidnapping won't be tolerated and every possible measure will be taken to ensure the security of the UN employees and other international organisation," he said in a statement.
It is unclear whether the hostages were targeted because of election links or for being foreigners.
Filipino hostage Angelito Nayan
Hostage Angelito Nayan, a Filipino diplomatic officer
The family of Ms Flanigan, from County Armagh in Northern Ireland, say they are gravely concerned for her safety.
International aid groups and foreign embassies are said to be reviewing security arrangements in their missions and offices in Kabul.
It is the first kidnapping of foreigners in the capital.
Foreign aid workers and UN staff have been ordered back to their compounds and told to remain there or in other safe havens until further notice.
Observers say the fear is that foreign workers could now be targets in Afghanistan in the same way that they are in Iraq.
UN vehicle in Kabul, Afghanistan
The election workers were taken from a UN vehicle
The abducted workers are part of a joint United Nations and Afghan government team that organised the country's presidential election and has been conducting the vote count since polling day on 9 October.
The workers were seized after being stopped by a four-wheel drive vehicle near the Intercontinental Hotel.
Eyewitnesses say there were at least three kidnappers wearing camouflage and armed with Kalashnikov rifles.
The kidnappers reportedly carried the two women off on their shoulders and then drove away.
Kidnappings have been relatively rare in Afghanistan over the past few years, targeting mainly construction workers in the south.
There were a number of deadly attacks during the electoral registration process, but the campaign itself and vote count were mostly free of violence.
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