The American UN official kidnapped in Pakistan two months ago was released unharmed yesterday, ending the most high profile hostage ordeal for a Westerner in Pakistan since Daniel Pearl’s 2002 killing.
John Solecki, the local head of the UN refugee agency, was snatched at gunpoint in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan Province, on Feb. 2. His driver was killed during the abduction.
“I can confirm that he has been released,” UN spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis told reporters. “A UN team has met him. He seems all right. The priority will be to get him medical attention.”
Pagonis later said that Solecki had already left Pakistan.
“He is on his way home. He was flown from Quetta,” she told reporters, declining to give any further details.
Pakistan’s interior ministry chief, Rehman Malik, confirmed that Solecki had been released after an ordeal lasting nearly nine weeks and that preparations were being made to reunite him with his family.
Solecki’s 83-year-old mother had urged the Pakistani public to help secure her son’s release in an audio message released in February, saying that she and her 91-year-old husband had visited their son’s friends in Baluchistan.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed gratitude to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and “many other people” for working to secure Solecki’s release.
His safety is a welcome piece of good news for the beleaguered government in Pakistan, battling a wave of deadly extremist violence. Pakistan was also criticized by Poland over the beheading of a Polish hostage in February.
Pakistan had offered a reward of 1 million rupees (US$12,610) for information leading to Solecki’s rescue.
“We used all our resources to get his release,” Malik said.
Security forces tailed the abductors, but negotiations for Solecki’s release were conducted through a committee that included influential tribal elders, he said.
The details surrounding his release were not immediately clear and Solecki did not appear in public. Baluchistan police chief Asif Nawaz Janjua told reporters that Solecki had been found “safe and sound.”
A shadowy organization claiming to hold Solecki, the Baluchistan Liberation United Front (BLUF), had threatened to kill him unless the government freed more than 1,100 “prisoners,” but numerous deadlines came and went.