Hostage Families Visit Mosque to Plea for Help

( [email protected] ) Aug 04, 2007 03:08 PM EDT
The families of the 21 remaining South Korean Christians held by the Taliban in Afghanistan visited an Islamic mosque in Seoul Saturday to plea to Muslims for help in the release of the hostages.
One of the family members of the South Koreans kidnapped in Afghanistan delivers a letter appealing for assistance to free the hostages to Sulaiman Lee Haeng Lae, Imam of Seoul Central Mosque. An Afghan negotiator has again ruled out an exchange of Taliban prisoners to free 21 South Korean hostages, whose families made a new appeal for their release. (Photo: AFP/ Choi Won-Suk)

The families of the 21 remaining South Korean Christians held by the Taliban in Afghanistan visited an Islamic mosque in Seoul Saturday to plea to Muslims for help in the release of the hostages.

Family members delivered a letter to the mosque appealing for Muslims worldwide to urge the Taliban to release the captives, mostly women, who are said to be ill.

“These children went to act on their love beyond race, religion and borders,” read the letter, according to The Associated Press.

It also emphasized that the Presbyterian church group went to Afghanistan to offer aid and “not just out of religious zeal” as the Taliban had accused the volunteers. The family further explained that the group went to pay the debt Koreans owed to the world for their economic growth since the Korean War.

“We still believe Korea is still Afghanistan’s friend. Please send our twenty-one children home that we may hug them once again,” the families urged.

The elder brother of captive Lee Ji-young said, "We asked mosque officials to convey our letter of appeal to Islamic groups across the world," according to Yonhap news agency. He added that the letter was written in Korean, English and Arabic.

Since the abduction, Muslims have more vocally condemned the Taliban’s kidnapping of the innocent volunteer group and appealed for their release.

On Friday, the chairman of the 30-million strong Muhammadiyah Muslim organization in Indonesia labeled the Taliban’s action as “in violation of Islamic principles and teaching,” according to Agence France-Presse. He criticized the Taliban for undermining the image of Islam and Muslims around the world.

The statement issued by the Muslim leader further criticized the Taliban’s action as “in contradiction to the universal principles of humanity.”

The Muslim leader concluded by calling on the Taliban to release the South Korean hostages “immediately” and “unconditionally” to be reunited with their families.

Similarly, hundreds of Muslims in South Korea had called for the release of the Korean Christian hostages on July 27 during their prayer meeting. The sermon that evening had emphasized that Islam respects human life and killing is forbidden unless for a just cause.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan reiterated Saturday that it will not exchange Taliban prisoners for the South Korean hostages – the insurgents’ main demand.

“They can only talk about money, ransom,” said parliamentarian Mahmood Gailani, to Agence France-Presse. “Not only the Americans are opposed to an exchange for prisoners, it’s against the policy of the government.”

Afghan president Hamid Karzai authorized an exchange of five rebel prisoners for an Italian reporter in March. The United States and western nations had widely criticized Karzai’s action as supporting terrorism. Now critics are saying that the prisoner exchange incident had encouraged recent abductions in the country.

Following the mosque visit Saturday, some 300 family and friends weathered the rain to attend the funeral for the second victim Shim Sung-min, 29, outside of Seoul, according to Yonhap.

Shim was killed this past Monday by his Taliban captors and his body was found in a village near where the aid group was originally abducted on Tuesday.

Shim’s father said tearfully, “It rains as if heaven knows your parents’ mind. Pray for the safety of the 21 hostages from heaven,” according to AP. Shim’s body will be donated for medical science after the funeral ceremony.

It has been over two weeks since the group of 23 South Korean Christians was kidnapped by Taliban militants in Afghanistan’s insurgency-prone 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. The leader of the aid group, Bae Hyung-kyu, was the first victim, found dead last Wednesday with 10 bullet holes in his body.

The Taliban has informed that most of the hostages are ill with two severely ill to the point that their lives are in danger. The Taliban had refused on Friday to allow an Afghan medical team to treat the hostages, saying that the medical team cannot be trusted. They also said the government could simply release two rebels in exchange for the two ill hostages.

The kidnapping of the 23 Korean Christians is the largest abduction of foreigners in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.