U.N. Hostages in Afghanistan Freed
Kabul, November 23, 2004 - Three U.N. workers kidnapped in Afghanistan four weeks ago were released unharmed Tuesday.
Philippine diplomat Angelito Nayan, British-Irish citizen Annetta Flanigan and Shqipe Hebibi of Kosovo were seized at gunpoint from a U.N. vehicle on Oct. 28 in Kabul.
They were first foreigners abducted in the Afghan capital since the Taliban fell three years ago, and their abductions raised fears that the Afghan capital could become prey to the kind of deadly kidnappings by insurgents that have plagued Iraq.
"They are out," U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said. "I'm told they are in good spirits and they seem to be fine."
Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said the trio were "abandoned in one location inside Kabul" at around 6 a.m. Tuesday.
Jalali said discussions had been held with the kidnappers, whom he declined to identify, but insisted no deal was done and that the releases were unconditional.
"None of the hostage-takers conditions have been met," he told a news conference. "All those people who had a hand in this â€” directly or indirectly â€” will be brought to justice."
Afghan officials have said they believe a criminal gang carried out the abductions, and have said that negotiations centered on a ransom demand.
Jalali said it was "possible" that a Taliban-linked group which has claimed responsibility for the kidnappings had hired some criminals to abduct the three, who helped organize the country's Oct. 9 presidential elections.
The group, Jaish-al Muslimeen, or Army of Muslims, had demanded that Afghan and U.S. authorities free jailed comrades.
"I cannot say they were not involved," Jalali said.
Officials said the three U.N. workers underwent medical examinations at a NATO base in Kabul that showed all were well and were then given time to call relatives and friends and to relax.
"It's a very happy moment, but also a very private moment," said Almeida e Silva, the U.N. spokesman. He said all three would travel home to their families "very soon."
Jalali appealed to Afghanistan's international backers not to lose their nerve in the face of the kidnapping which "must not be repeated and will never be tolerated."
"We hope it will not discourage the resolve of the international community to continue their work to assist the Afghan people in the pursuit of lasting peace and security," he said.