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Official: Afghan police free female German captive seized Saturday

Monday, August 20, 2007

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Afghan police freed a female Ger­man hostage from a Kabul neighborhood and arrested a group of kidnappers early today, an Interior Ministry spokesman said.

The 31-year-old aid worker was freed during a raid in the western part of the capital not far from the restaurant where she was seized Saturday while dining with her husband, Zemary Bashari said. The woman's husband was not abducted.

"A group of kidnappers were arrested," Bashari said.

In Berlin, a spokeswoman for Germany's Foreign Ministry confirmed the woman was "in safety at the German Embassy" in Kabul.

On Sunday, Afghan television broadcast what it said was video of the woman calling for the release of unspecified prisoners while being prompted by a man on what to say.

The woman on the tape identifies herself as Christina Meier and holds up what appeared to be a German identification card with her name on it. Officials have not confirmed the woman's identity.

Kidnappers not Taliban

Police have said Taliban militants were not behind her brazen daytime abduction even though the group has been linked to the recent kidnappings of 23 South Koreans and two German men.

In the video, the woman was shown sitting on the floor inside a room, her head covered with a white scarf. She said "I am OK" and then read a letter in the Afghan language, Dari, calling for the release of unknown prisoners.

She was prompted to make remarks in English and in Dari by a man speaking in broken English.

The private Tolo TV, which broadcast the video, did not say how it obtained the material.

"I am fine. There are not threats against me. I want from my country to do what it can for my release," she said in Dari, reading from a piece of paper while seated, occasionally looking up toward the camera.

A male voice off-camera prompted her to say, "to help" and he told her to use the word "urgent."

"Please help for my release, and help me," she said.

A man, his head covered with a scarf and wearing sunglasses inside a room, appeared afterward in the video and demanded the Afghan government release a number of unknown prisoners. He said a member of the group would provide the government with the list.

"We are not bad people. We are a special network," the man said at the end of the video. He did not identify the group or say whether it is linked to the Taliban or other insurgents operating in Afghanistan.

In recent weeks, the Taliban have offered media interviews with their foreign hostages, apparently hoping to appeal to public sentiment and thereby pressure the Afghan government to release Taliban prisoners. In such cases, the hostage's comments and message are controlled by the captors and the statements are made in that context.

Germany's Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the video.

Ali Shah Paktiawal, head of police criminal investigations in Kabul, ruled out involvement of the Taliban in the abduction, but would not say who was responsible.

In Saturday's kidnapping, four men pulled up to a restaurant in a gray Toyota Corolla, and one went inside and asked to order a pizza, intelligence officials investigating the incident said.

They said two other men waited outside, while another remained in the car.

The man in the restaurant pulled out a pistol, walked up to a table where the couple was sitting and took her from the restaurant, the officials said on condition of anonymity due to agency policy.

Police spotted the speeding car and opened fire, but hit a nearby taxi and killed its driver.

The woman and her husband, also a German, have worked for the Christian organization Ora International in Kabul since September 2006, said Ulf Baumann, a spokesman for the group.

Baumann did not disclose the woman's name or her husband's. He said she was fluent in Dari.

Abduction fears have risen after 23 South Koreans and two Germans were taken hostage in separate incidents last month in central Afghanistan.

One of the German men was shot to death. The other remains in captivity.

Two of the South Koreans were shot to death, and two were freed. A Taliban spokesman said Saturday that negotiations for their release had failed.

In southern Afghanistan, a NATO soldier was killed escorting a convoy in southern Afghanistan on Sunday, while four Afghan security guards died in a suicide attack.

Violence has risen sharply during the last two months in Afghanistan. This year more than 3,700 people -- most of them militants -- have died, according to an Associated Press tally of casualty figures provided by Western and Afghan officials.


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