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German hostage freed in Afghanistan

Afghan police rescue a German aid worker in a pre-dawn swoop, providing some relief amid deadlock in efforts to free 19 South Koreans.

world Updated: Aug 20, 2007 09:52 IST

Afghan police rescued a German aid worker in a pre-dawn swoop early on Monday, providing some relief amid deadlock in efforts to free 19 South Koreans and another German abducted more than a month ago.

Police surrounded the house in southwest Kabul where she was being held and forced her captors to surrender, officials said.

"We successfully rescued her," police colonel Ghulam Rasoul, who took part in the operation, told AFP, adding that six kidnappers were arrested.

"We located the house where she was kept. We surrounded the house and called on the kidnappers to surrender to police.

"They came out one by one and surrendered and then we freed the hostage. She's fine."

The woman, who identified herself as Christina Meier in a video released Sunday by her abductors, had been seized at gunpoint in broad daylight a day earlier at a Kabul restaurant. A taxi driver was killed in the crossfire.

The German foreign ministry confirmed she had been rescued and was now at the German embassy in the Afghan capital.

Her kidnapping had stoked fears of a drawn-out hostage crisis with one of her apparent captors, his face covered, using the video to demand the release of jailed Afghans for her freedom.

He said the kidnappers were not Taliban, and an Afghan intelligence source who did not want to be identified said some had criminal backgrounds.

However the hardline Islamic militia has also been insisting on a prisoner release in exchange for the Korean Christian aid workers it has been holding since July 19.

The militants killed two men in the 23-member group shortly after they were seized in the insurgency-plagued south Afghanistan, but the Afghan government has repeatedly rejected the demand.

The Taliban then released two women a week ago after opening direct talks with South Korean officials, leaving 19 still in captivity.

In the video on Sunday, aired by a private television channel and lasting less than a minute, the woman said she was "okay" but appeared nervous.

She displayed her ID card bearing her name and said she worked for the aid charity ORA International, where a colleagues said she had been living in the city for six months and working as a development officer.

"I'm okay, I want my country to try to help secure my freedom as soon as possible," she said haltingly in Afghanistan's Dari language, with prompts in English from a man nearby.

President Hamid Karzai condemned the abduction and video as "a criminal act and an un-Afghan act," according to his spokesman Humayun Hamidzada.

His government has refused to free prisoners, but the Taliban said Sunday they would restart direct talks over the South Koreans if their demands were met.

The militants said that telephone contacts with South Korean officials had resumed since Saturday, despite the apparent breakdown of earlier face-to-face talks.

"We've telephone contacts with Korean delegation since yesterday (Saturday) and the Koreans are insisting that face-to-face talks must be resumed," said purported Taliban commander Abdullah Jan.

"But the Taliban leadership council says if our demands -- which is the freedom of our prisoners -- are met, we're ready to resume talks." Otherwise, further discussion would be "useless," he said in a phone call to AFP from an undisclosed location.

"If there are no talks resuming, our leaders will decide their fate."

The extremists are also still holding a German man, Rudolph Blechschmidt, 62, who was kidnapped with a colleague on July 18 in Wardak province.

The other German man collapsed a few days later and was shot dead.

The Taliban and their Al-Qaeda backers have said abducting foreigners is a new tactic to try to force international forces out of the country, which they invaded in late 2001 to drive the Islamic militia from power.