Taliban kidnap British aid worker, demand prisoner swap for Aafia Siddiqui

The Taliban have reportedly claimed responsibility for kidnapping a British aid worker Sunday. They are demanding a prisoner exchange for Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman sentenced in New York last week for attacking US soldiers.

Wajahat Hussain/PPI Images/Newscom
Supporters of Pasban chant slogans for the release of Pakistani neuroscientist Dr. Aafia Siddiqui during a protest demonstration outside the Karachi Press Club on August 20.

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The Taliban reportedly claimed responsibility for Sunday's kidnapping of a British aid worker and three Afghan colleagues in Kunar Province in Afghanistan, and have proposed a prisoner exchange for the Pakistani woman sentenced to 86 years in prison in the United States last week.

The Taliban have made targeting aid workers part of their recent strategy. Some recent kidnappings have ended with negotiations and release, while other aid workers have been killed.

The Daily Telegraph reports that a Taliban-connected news agency, the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP), said that a local Taliban commander in Kunar claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. The news agency's website requires a subscription, but according to the Telegraph the commander, Mohammad Osman, said he would exchange the British woman for Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani scientist the US government says is connected to Al Qaeda.

“We are lucky that we abducted this British woman soon after the ruthless ruling by an American court on Aafia Siddiqui,” he told AIP.

The Telegraph reports that the British government is in touch with the US about the report, although both governments have policies not to pay ransoms to kidnappers.

The Guardian, meanwhile, reports that the Taliban have denied carrying out the kidnapping, and that a local official said local insurgents were responsible.

The kidnapping took place Sunday morning as the four were driving on a highway to visit a canal built by Development Alternatives, Inc., (DAI), a contractor for USAID in Afghanistan. The New York Times reports that the British aid worker, whose family has requested she remain anonymous, and one of the abducted Afghans were employees of DAI, while the other two Afghans were drivers. They were reportedly kidnapped after a gunfight, and moved into the mountains by their captors.

CNN reports that local officials have created a council of elders to negotiate with the kidnappers. The Daily Mail reports that the woman is a doctor, and is said to have spent several years in Afghanistan.

Kidnappings and targeting of aid workers are not unusual in Afghanistan, and DAI workers have been targeted before. In July, four people working for DAI were killed by gunmen in Kunduz Province. According to The New York Times, there have been three kidnappings of aid workers this year in Kunar alone. All of those abducted were released after negotiations, according to the Times. Last month, the Taliban killed 10 people working for a Christian medical team in northern Afghanistan. The Taliban accused the team of proselytizing, which their organization denied.

The Christian Science Monitor reported that the killings fit with a new Taliban tactic to target Western civilian workers, and particularly Christians, as foreign invaders.

"There has been a rise in politically motivated attacks" against aid workers, according to a 2008 roundup of aid worker deaths by Change.org, a Web consortium of social justice groups. "Many rebel and insurgent groups no longer see humanitarian workers as neutral or independent." After killing four aid workers in 2008, the Taliban issued a statement saying their group was working for "foreign invader forces," according to Change.org.

The news of the abduction comes as the US announced it has begun an offensive to take the southern province of Kandahar from Taliban control, and as Afghanistan is recounting ballots from last week’s parliamentary elections amid accusations of widespread fraud.

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