U.S. woman abducted in Afghanistan. Taliban responsible?

Aid worker helped women set up their own businesses in southern city of Kandahar.

By , Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor

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    Checkpoints: After Saturday's kidnapping of a US aid worker security was beefed up in the city of Kandahar.
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    Checkpoints: After Saturday’s kidnapping of a US aid worker security was beefed up in the city of Kandahar.
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    An Afghan gardener working at the compound of the Asian Rural Life Development Foundation office in Kandahar. After an American aid worker Cyd Mizell, police tightened security in the region as officials searched for the group responsible for the kidnapping.
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The abduction on Saturday of a female US aid worker in one of Afghanistan's most dangerous cities may signal increased risk for foreign aid workers.

Kidnappings of Americans have been rare, and some Kandahar residents say the abduction of Cyd Mizell and her Afghan driver at gunpoint is a worrying development.

Sarah Chayes, a former journalist who now runs an Afghan cooperative that exports soap, says the incident "sends a signal. It's like a new chapter in a book."

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"They haven't taken an American or a Canadian on the streets like this before. I don't think this was just bandits because the operation looks like it was too sophisticated for that."

Ms. Chayes suggests that the abduction could have been payback for US policy on President Pervez Musharraf.

Kandahar, the spiritual home of the Taliban movement, has been rocked by the neo-Taliban insurgency that has gained strength in the past three years. The deterioration of law and order has also made the city considerably more dangerous for foreign visitors and Afghans alike.

The most recent abduction case involved four members of the International Committee of the Red Cross in the eastern province of Wardak in September. The two Afghans, a Macedonian, and a Burmese citizen were freed three days later. Perhaps the most notorious case of 2007 was the abduction of 23 Christian aid workers from South Korea who attempted to travel from Kabul to Kandahar by bus. Two hostages were shot to death before the rest were released. An American civilian was briefly abducted in Kabul in April 2005 but escaped by throwing himself from a moving car.

Analysts fear that terrorists and criminal gangs have been encouraged by the policy of some foreign governments to pay ransoms.

The few foreigners who still live in the city of Kandahar often use heavy security, including armed guards and armor-plated vehicles, whenever they ventured out of their offices. Afghan officials say that Mizell had been wearing a burqa, an all-encompassing body veil favoured by most Afghan women when they have to go out of their homes.

Ms. Mizell worked for Asian Life Development Foundation, a little-known nongovernmental organization . The group said she had been working in Kandahar for nearly three years with women and on income generation projects.

A speaker of Pashtu, the main language of Afghanistan's south, she taught English at Kandahar University and gave embroidery lessons at a girls' school.

In response to the abduction, local police increased their presence on the streets of Kandahar over the weekend and the Ministry of the Interior said it was doing all it could to find Ms. Mizell. Local police said that they had not been contacted by anyone claiming responsibility for the kidnapping.

The Taliban have employed kidnapping as a tactic in their battle to erode popular support for the government of President Hamid Karzai several times before.

Zabihullah Mujahed, the Taliban's main spokesman, said they did not know if anyone affiliated with the extremist Sunni group had been responsible for the abduction.

[Editor's note: The original headline has been changed.]

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