Afghan police rescued a female German aid worker just hours after she appeared in a video asking her government to secure her release.
Christina Meier, 31, who works for a small Christian aid organization, was dining with her husband at a restaurant in Kabul on Sunday when four armed assailants carried out the bold midday kidnapping. Unlike the Taliban militants who are currently holding captive 19 South Korean aid volunteers in Afghanistan, the 'criminal gang' behind the latest abduction was reportedly motivated by money.
"The motive behind the kidnapping was mainly ransom. They had demanded a big sum – about $1 million," ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary told reporters after a dramatic pre-dawn swoop Monday for the German captive.
Police colonel Ghulam Rasoul, who took part in the operation, said that six kidnappers were arrested, but Bashary said only four, including the gang leader, were in custody and being questioned.
"We located the house where she was kept. We surrounded the house, and called on the kidnappers to surrender to police. They came out, one by one, and surrendered, and then we freed the hostage. She's fine," Rasoul said, according to Agence France-Presse.
Prior to the rescue, Meier appeared in a video that was broadcasted on private TV stations in Afghanistan, stating, 'I am OK.'
"I am OK. There are not threats against me. I want from my country to do what it can for my release," she said in Dari, the official language in Afghanistan, reading from a piece of paper.
Although the turbaned man who appeared in the video after Meier said his group was not the Taliban, like the members of the militant group, the man called for the release of “innocent prisoners.”
"We are not bad people. We are a special network," the man said at the end of the video.
Meier’s kidnapping was the latest in the string of hostage dramas in Afghanistan that have heightened fears of abductions and came amid negotiations for the lives of 19 South Korean aid volunteers who have been held captive since their July 19 capture.
On Saturday, a Taliban spokesman said face-to-face negotiations with a South Korean delegation over the fate of 19 kidnapped aid volunteers had failed and future talks were unlikely.
After two rounds of in-person talks – with the last meeting held Thursday – the Taliban complained of lack of progress and said that they are currently deciding the fate of the Koreans.
“The negotiations have failed. The Taliban leading council is making its decision now on the fate of the hostages,” Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi told AFP.
Since the beginning, the rebels have demanded the release of jailed militants in exchange for the hostages, which originally numbered 23, and now numbers 19 after the deaths of two male captives and the release of two female captives. The Afghan and U.S. governments, however, have repeatedly made it clear that the release of prisoners was not an option.
Both Aghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. President George W. Bush have said releasing rebels would further encourage kidnapping as an industry in the insurgency-wracked country and support terrorism.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai was criticized by the United States and other Western countries earlier this year for giving into terrorism after he released five Taliban prisoners in exchange for an Italian reporter in March. He had vowed that the exchange would be a one-time deal.
“Further talks will not achieve anything – the Koreans told us that the Americans and the Afghan government are not ready to release our prisoners,” said Ahmadi.
Seoul has repeatedly explained to the captors that it is powerless to free the prisoners without the Afghan and U.S. government’s consent.
The group 23 South Korean volunteers – 16 reportedly females – were abducted nearly a month ago in insurgency-plagued Ghazni province. The church group was on its way to provide free medical services to poor Afghan citizens when their bus was hijacked on July 19.
Two male hostages have been killed since the group’s kidnapping – the largest abduction of foreigners in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. The leader of the aid group, Bae Hyung-kyu, was the first victim, found dead July 25 with 10 bullet holes in his body. The body of the second victim, 29-year-old Shim Sung-min, was found July 30.
With the U.S.-Afghan governments taking a hard-line stance against a prisoner swap, the recent South Korea-Taliban talks appeared to be one of the last hopes. The first round of talks paved the way for the first significant breakthrough in the over-three-weeks-old hostage drama with the release of two female hostages, who the Taliban freed as a “gesture of good will” because negotiations were going well.
Kim Ji-na, 32, and Kim Kyun-ja, 37, returned to South Korea Friday where they were reunited with their families and then taken to a military hospital. South Korea said a military hospital was chosen to avoid the former hostages being questioned by the media which could adversely affect negotiations for the remaining 19 hostages.
However, since the release of the two women, negotiations have not made any headway and no future talks have been set.
Although some reports have suggested that a ransom deal was quietly taking place for the remaining hostages, the Taliban spokesman said that face-to-face talks will only resume if South Korea and the Afghan government are willing to discuss a prisoner swap.
Furthermore, the Taliban said earlier this month that regardless of how the hostage situation turns out, they plan to continue their kidnapping policy to pressure the Afghan government.
“Whether the Kabul administration will do the [prisoner] exchange or not, it will not have any effect on our side,” said Ahmadi on Aug. 5, according to The Associated Press. “The process of kidnapping [foreigners] will be ongoing.”
Afghanistan is reportedly facing the worst level of violence over the past 18 months since the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001.
Christian Post reporter Michelle Vu in Washington contributed to this article.