Three U.N. Hostages Freed in Afghanistan

November 23rd, 2004  
News Manager

Topic: Three U.N. Hostages Freed in Afghanistan

KABUL (Reuters) - Three foreign U.N. workers held hostage in Afghanistan were freed unharmed Tuesday, almost four weeks after they were abducted at gunpoint on the streets of the capital Kabul, the United Nations said.

November 23rd, 2004  
By David Brunnstrom and Sayed Salahuddin

KABUL (Reuters) - Three foreign U.N. workers held hostage in Afghanistan have been freed unharmed, almost four weeks after they were abducted at gunpoint on the streets of the capital Kabul, the United Nations says.

Annetta Flanigan from Northern Ireland, Kosovan Shqipe Hebibi and Filipino diplomat Angelito Nayan were kidnapped in Kabul on October 28 after helping run a presidential election won by U.S.-backed incumbent Hamid Karzai.

"We are very, very happy and very relieved. Staff in U.N. offices are in jubilation that their friends are back," said U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva on Tuesday.

"They appear to be good health and good spirits," he said, adding that they were expected to leave Afghanistan as soon as possible

Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said the hostages had been left at an unidentified location in Kabul at about 6 a.m. (1:30 a.m. British time) and there had been no military action to free them.

Akbar Agha, the leader of the Taliban splinter faction, the Jaish-e Muslimeen (Army of Muslims), that had claimed to be holding the hostages, said they had been released in exchange for 24 Taliban prisoners, but Jalali denied this.

"No prisoners were released, no money was paid, no demand was met of the hostage takers," Jalali told a news conference. "And to my knowledge no other parties paid money."

Jalali described the kidnappers as "criminals" but said it was possible a gang had been hired by Jaish-e Muslimeen, given that the militants had openly claimed to be holding the workers. He vowed that those responsible would be brought to justice.

The three workers were snatched from their U.N. vehicle from a busy Kabul street just a few hundred metres from their office, raising fears in the foreign community that local militants had begun copying tactics of insurgents in Iraq.


Jaish-e Muslimeen had threatened to kill the hostages if its demand for the release of Taliban prisoners was not met but the kidnappers let repeated deadlines pass without incident and even allowed the three hostages to phone home.

Agha, asked by the Afghan Islamic Press whether his group would carry out more kidnappings, replied: "We will use every tactic to secure the release of the Taliban jailed either by the U.S. forces or the government."

Jalali said two military raids had been mounted on Monday and some suspects detained. One person was killed and four wounded in one raid, but there was no military activity on Tuesday, he said.

U.S.-led troops searching for the hostages blasted their way into several compounds in Kabul on Monday and detained 12 people, including a doctor working for the United Nations, but it was unclear if this raid had helped rescue the hostages.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw expressed delight at the releases and said the world would continue to help Afghanistan.

"Kidnapping, whoever the victims, is an appalling crime," he said. "They had no quarrel with any Afghan, only a desire to help the country's people build democracy."

"The determination of those committed to rebuilding Afghanistan remains as strong as ever," he said.

In the Philippines, friends and relatives of the Filipino diplomat shouted with joy in his hometown south of Manila.

"Praise God. Thank God he is free," said Nicole Daniel, president of the Las Pinas neighbourhood association. "We are so emotional. Everybody's crying here."

Silvestre Afable, presidential communications director in Manila, added: "There was no ransom paid and also, as far as I know, there was no prisoner exchange. All three of the hostages are safe and well."

Hebibi's brother Naim Hebibi was overcome with joy in her home town of Pec in western Kosovo.

"This is the greatest moment of my life," he said. "I cannot describe the happiness I feel that Shqipe will be back with her family. She was born for the second time."

A family friend, Kosovan businessman Behgjet Pacolli, spent weeks in Kabul trying to secure the release of Hebibi. "I am very, very happy," he said.

Flanigan's family, which had kept silent throughout the crisis, issued a statement saying: "We rejoice today at the news of Annetta's release and now very much look forward to seeing Annetta with her husband Jose when they come home."