Taliban rebels agreed to extend the negotiation deadline for the 22 remaining Korean Christians to noon Friday, said a spokesman for the militants Thursday.
“The deputy interior minister asked us to give them extra time until tomorrow 12:00 p.m. (3:30 a.m. EDT) to be able to handle the issue,” said purported Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi to Agence France-Presse from an unknown location. “The Taliban leading council decided to give them time until tomorrow (Friday) noon.”
Afghan government officials also confirmed the extended deadline, noting that they were “trying with all our ability to win the safe and sound release of the South Koreans,” according to AFP.
The extension comes after the “final” deadline on Wednesday evening passed without any further killings.
Yet the day did not escape without tragedy when the leader of the Christian aid group, 42-year-old youth pastor Bae Hyung-kyu, was found dead with 10 bullet holes in his body.
He was the first and thus far only person killed out of the 23 volunteers set to administer medical aid to citizens of the impoverished country. Officials at Bae’s home church, Saemmul Presbyterian Church in Bundang, just south of the South Korean capital Seoul, said that the youth pastor was killed on his birthday.
Bae was also one of the founders of Saemmul Church and is survived by his wife and a young daughter.
His body reportedly arrived at the main U.S. military base in Bagram, near Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, and will be flown back to South Korea on the first flight available, according to Yonhap news agency.
Meanwhile, South Korea has sent a top presidential envoy to Afghanistan on Thursday to help secure the release of the remaining hostages – composed mostly of women.
Baek Jong-chun, South Korea’s chief presidential secretary for security affairs, will consult with top Afghan officials on the release of the Koreans.
"We hope the negotiations between the Afghan government and Taliban go well," said Kim Kyung-ja, mother of hostage Lee Sun-young, according to The Associated Press Thursday. "Please send our lovely children home."
It has been exactly a week since Taliban gunmen hijacked the Korean church group’s bus and took 23 passengers, including 18 females, captive to pressure the Afghan government to release Taliban rebels and South Korea to remove its troops from the country.
The kidnapping of the 23 Korean Christians is the largest abduction of a group of foreigners in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.