Afghan minister: Eight arrested in kidnapping of Italian aid worker

Sunday, June 12, 2005

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Afghan police have arrested eight people suspected of involvement in the kidnapping of an Italian aid worker, who was freed after three weeks in captivity, the interior minister said Saturday.

Ali Ahmad Jalali said the eight have been detained separately since May 16, when Clementina Cantoni, 32, was abducted at gunpoint in the heart of the Afghan capital, Kabul. She was freed Thursday and flew home Friday.

At a press conference in Kabul, Jalali gave no details about the eight except to say they were still being questioned. According to Italian media reports, Cantoni told prosecutors the number of her kidnappers varied from four to six.

Jalali reiterated a government claim that no concessions were made or ransom paid to free the Italian, who had been working for CARE International on a project helping Afghan widows and their families.

Italian papers have reported that Cantoni's freedom was secured thanks to the release of the mother of the leader of the kidnappers.

Jalali acknowledged the mother of one kidnapper was released, but he said it was not part of a deal. He said the mother had been detained on suspicion of involvement in an earlier kidnapping of the son of an Afghan businessman, but she was not charged.

Jalali said earlier that combined pressure from the Afghan public, President Hamid Karzai, tribal leaders and Muslim clerics persuaded the kidnapper, whom he described as a criminal, to release her.

At Saturday's meeting with reporters, the minister said the gang responsible for abducting Cantoni was different from the one that abducted three U.N. workers last year and then released them a month later.

Officials said earlier the kidnappers were the same group.

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