One of the 23 Korean Christian hostages in Afghanistan was killed Wednesday and more would be killed if the demands of the Taliban were not met, said a purported spokesman for the militant group.
"Since Kabul's administration did not listen to our demand and did not free our prisoners, the Taliban shot dead a male Korean hostage,” Qari Yousef Ahmadi, the alleged news representative for the Taliban, told Reuters by phone from an unknown location.
Ahmadi said earlier that the insurgents would kill “a few” of the hostages before 5:30 a.m. EDT after talks over the fate of the 23 South Korean Christian hostages had stalled. Three deadlines have passed since the Koreans were abducted last Thursday, with the latest being Tuesday 10:30 a.m. EDT.
“The Taliban have lost their patience with it all so they will be killed…because a lot of time has passed since the deadline and there has been no response,” Ahmadi told AP by satellite phone before the news of a first killing was reported. “The Taliban takes no responsibility for the killing.”
The threat came as a surprise to Ali Shah Ahmadzai, the police chief of the Ghazni province where the hostages were captured, who said negotiations were moving in a positive direction.
“I don’t know why they’ve suddenly changed their mind,” Ahmadzai said, according to AP. Several of Ahmadi’s past statements have turned out false or contradicted other statements by Taliban, leading some to question the reliability of his information.
“My message to the Taliban is to use tolerance and be patient,” the provincial police chief said. “This (killing hostages) is against the Afghan culture.”
It has been nearly a week since the group of South Korean Christians was kidnapped while riding in a bus through the Ghazni province – one of the most insurgency-hit regions in Afghanistan – as they made their way toward the southern city of Kandahar.
The 23 South Koreans, which include 18 women, work at an aid organization in Kandahar, said Sidney Serena, a political affairs officer at the South Korean Embassy in Kabul.
Despite accusations that the Koreans were on an evangelistic mission, South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun as well as the senior pastor of the hostages’ home church, the Rev. Park Eun-jo, emphasized that the volunteers were there to provide free medical or educational services with no missionary intentions.
It is illegal to share the Gospel in Afghanistan under the Taliban.
“There are some who misunderstand us but we didn’t attempt any aggressive missionary activities,” said the Rev. Park on Monday, according to the Korean newspaper The Hankyoreh.
“We love Afghanistan and respect Muslim culture. We want to continue our community service work in medical facilities and schools in a way that is desirable to the people of Afghanistan,” said Park.
South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-Soon, who is currently in Afghanistan for negotiations, said the hostages are held in different locations and had no health problems, according to AP.
The Taliban is demanding for the Afghan government to release a similar number of Taliban prisoners and for South Korea to remove its 200 troops from the country in exchange for the captives.
Thus far, the Afghan government has not agreed to release the prisoners and South Korea has emphasized that the troops will leave Afghanistan by the end of the year as scheduled. It was also noted that the Korean troops are mostly working on humanitarian projects.
Meanwhile, Christians worldwide have been called to lift up prayers for the abducted group.
“We pray that our Korean brothers, sisters and their families will experience a special nearness of God to them and find comfort in the knowledge of His power in their time of anguish,” said the Rev. Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, the international director of the World Evangelical Alliance.
“We pray for the government officials and kidnappers who are in negotiations, may they agree to a peaceful resolution quickly and allow the hostages to be reunited with their families,” he concluded.
The kidnapping of the 23 South Korean Christians was the largest abduction of a group of foreigners in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.
Contributor Michelle Vu in Washington contributed to this article.