Swiss couple, held by Taliban, 'escape'

A Swiss couple, held hostage by the Taliban for nearly a year, say they escaped. The Taliban says they paid a ransom.

By , Associated Press

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    Swiss couple David Och and Daniela Widmer – held captive for nearly a year – wave upon their arrival at Qasim military base in Rawalpindi, Pakistan on Thursday, March 15, 2012.
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A Swiss couple held captive for nearly a year by the Taliban in Pakistan turned up at a Pakistan Army post close to the Afghan border on Thursday, claiming to have escaped from their captors, the Pakistani årmy said. They were swiftly flown to safety by the military.

Taliban commanders said a ransom was paid in exchange for the release of the man and woman.

David Och and Daniela Widmer, smiling and looking healthy, briefly waved for waiting cameras at a military airbase close to the Pakistani capital before getting into a van.

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The couple, who were apparently on holiday in the country, were seized in July in the southwest province of Baluchistan.

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They appeared in a militant video in October, saying their captors were threatening to kill them.

Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said the couple showed up at an army post in Miran Shah in North Waziristan, an al-Qaida and Taliban stronghold. He said the couple was then flown to Peshawar, the main city in northwestern Pakistan, on an army helicopter.

"They say they escaped from the custody of militants," he said.

Two local Pakistani Taliban commanders said the couple had been freed, but only after an undisclosed ransom had been paid and some Taliban prisoners were released from Pakistani custody. They refused to give their names.

The Swiss Embassy declined comment on the release of the couple.

Militants and criminal gangs often kidnap wealthy Pakistanis and less commonly foreigners.

Large ransoms are often paid to secure their release, but such payments are rarely confirmed.

There are at least five other foreigners currently being held in Pakistan.

On Jan. 5, armed men kidnapped a British man working for the Red Cross in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan, the violence-wracked province where the Swiss couple were also taken captive.

Last August, a 70-year-old American humanitarian aid worker was kidnapped from his house in the Punjabi city of Lahore. Al-Qaida claimed to be holding the man, Warren Weinstein, and said in a video he would be released if the United States stopped airstrikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.

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Associated Press writer Ishtiaq Mehsud in Dera Ismail Khan and Munir Ahmed and Chris Brummitt in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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