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3 kidnapped in kabul { October 29 2004 }

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Echoes of Iraq: 3 kidnapped in Kabul
Foreign women were U.N. election workers
- Colin Freeman, Chronicle Foreign Service
Friday, October 29, 2004

Kabul, Afghanistan -- The kidnapping of three foreign election workers has raised fears that an Iraq-style hostage crisis may be about to engulf the country.

The three workers, a Briton, a Kosovan Albanian and a Filipino, were seized at gunpoint as they drove through the capital, Kabul, at lunchtime Thursday. By nightfall, a huge manhunt was under way as Afghan and international security forces investigated claims of responsibility by a previously unknown Islamic faction.

The three officials worked for the United Nations' Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body, which oversaw the country's first-ever democratic elections earlier this month. They were driving through Karteh Parwan, a relatively upscale area of Kabul, when their marked U.N. Toyota 4-by-4 was cut off by another vehicle with blacked-out windows that was carrying a gang of armed men.

Brandishing Kalashnikov assault rifles, the group forced the three election workers into their vehicle and drove off. The Afghan driver was beaten and left behind, an Interior Ministry official said.

Security experts could recall only a handful of other known kidnappings of foreigners in Afghanistan in the three years since the fall of the Taliban, and all the other cases involved contract workers, not nongovernmental organization, or NGO, employees.

The Irish government identified one of the three as Annetta Flanigan. In Manila, a statement from the Department of Foreign Affairs identified the abducted Filipino as Angelito Nayan, a foreign service officer seconded to the U.N. electoral effort. The woman from Kosovo was not identified.

International security forces investigated claims that a breakaway faction of the ousted Taliban government may have been responsible. The group, calling itself the Army of Muslims, has claimed responsibility for the kidnappings but has yet to make its demands known or provide proof that it has the hostages.

However, news of the abductions already have shattered Kabul's reputation as a haven of relative safety in what remains a largely lawless country.

Concern is now growing that after failing to disrupt this month's elections, insurgent elements may have decided that an easier way to derail the country may be to target the large community of foreign workers in Afghanistan. Up to 1,000 aid agencies and nongovernmental organizations are working in Kabul, plus a large U.N. contingent and numerous foreign contractors.

Similar tactics in Iraq over the last six months -- including the seizure two weeks ago of Care International in Iraq head Margaret Hassan -- have all but stopped Western-led reconstruction efforts there.

Sher Afghan, 40, who was parked in his truck nearby, said he witnessed the kidnapping of the three U.N. workers: "The car with blacked-out windows came up from behind and then turned in front of them, forcing them to stop. About three or four men then jumped with Kalashnikovs and forced them to get out of the car. One of the women was screaming for help. They grabbed them, shoved them into their own car and drove off."

The three were driven away in a dark-colored four-wheel-drive vehicle in the direction of Paghman, a district in the west of Kabul province that is considered rife with banditry, said Abdul Jamil, head of the city police's criminal department.

Although more than 30 aid workers have been killed in Afghanistan in the last year, car bombs and kidnappings of the kind that have made virtually all of Iraq a Western no-go zone have been so far unheard of.

Teena Roberts, head of the charity Christian Aid in Afghanistan, which worked under the Soviet, mujahedeen and Taliban eras, said aid agencies were in shock at the news: "This is a new scenario for Afghanistan, and it changes the ground for NGOs considerably. This may of course be a one-off, but if you look at what is happening in Iraq, it would seem possible that Afghanistan might go the same way at some point."

The abductions sparked a major security clampdown in the city, with NATO helicopter gunships circling overhead and Afghan police questioning drivers at routes leading out of the city. Armored vehicles manned roadblocks in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood, where many aid workers and diplomats live.

The American military was ready to help "locate and if need be to rescue these individuals when they are found," spokesman Maj. Mark McCann said.

Remnants of the deposed Taliban regime were the automatic first suspects, but a spokesman for the group said it had no knowledge of the abductions.

Later, Mullah Ishaq Manzoor, commander of a breakaway Taliban faction known as the Jamiat Jaish-al Muslimeen (Army of Muslims), claimed his forces had carried out the abduction.

"We are checking their identities, and we will demand that if their countries have forces in Afghanistan they should withdraw them," he told the Associated Press in Pakistan, speaking in a satellite telephone call from an unknown place.

But an eyewitness at the scene of the abduction said the kidnappers looked like ethnic Tajiks from the Panjshir Valley area north of Kabul, formerly a mainstay of the Northern Alliance warlords who eventually toppled the Taliban.

That fueled speculation that the kidnapping could be the work of an alliance of disaffected warlords, many of whom are convinced that interim President Hamid Karzai is trying to isolate them from power in his new government.

For the aid workers, foreign contractors and diplomats in Afghanistan, however, the identity of the kidnappers is not the only thing to worry about. The real concern may be that others are likely to get the same idea -- as the case of Iraq has shown only too clearly.

Chronicle news services contributed to this report.

Page A - 3

3 kidnapped in kabul { October 29 2004 }
6 egyptians 2 iraqis kidnapped in iraq { September 24 2004 }
Afghan militants threaten united nations hostages { November 1 2004 }
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Brits rescue peace activists held hostage in iraq
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Egyptians and iraqis kidnapped { September 25 2004 }
Filipino hostage released in iraq after pullout { July 20 2004 }
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French journalist freed in iraq after 5 months
Hostage begs britain to pull its troops out { October 23 2004 }
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