Afghan Taliban abduct foreigners in helicopter landing

AFP, PULI ALAM, Afghanistan and Ankara

Tue, Apr 23, 2013 - Page 1

The Afghan Taliban yesterday said it had captured foreigners from a helicopter forced to make an emergency landing in Afghanistan, which Afghan officials said had seven Turks and two Russians onboard.

The militant group, which frequently makes exaggerated statements, claimed that 11 US military personnel were on the aircraft that came down on Sunday amid bad weather in Logar Province, just south of Kabul, the capital.

The US-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said no foreign military staff were involved and the helicopter was civilian. It said it had no information on the fate of the aircraft or its occupants.

“The foreign forces, by disassociating themselves from the helicopter, are trying to make it seem as the detainees are civilians, but denial will not benefit them as all were captured while wearing American military uniforms,” the Taliban said.

The group said on its Web Site that the foreigners “were captured alive and were then transferred to the most secure region of the nation,” adding that the helicopter had been torched.

The Afghan-based charter firm Khorasan Cargo Airlines, which operated the Mi-8 helicopter, said seven Turks working on a road project, a Russian pilot, a Russian flight engineer and an Afghan co-pilot were aboard.

Turkey confirmed that eight of its nationals were abducted and said it was holding “intensive talks” with Kabul.

“The Turkish embassy is holding intensive talks with Afghan authorities to find out their whereabouts,” a Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs diplomat told reporters.

There was no immediate comment from Moscow.

The Afghan Ministry of the Interior said a police team had been sent to the area and a search for the passengers and crew had begun.

It could not confirm the number or nationality of those held. Officials in Logar had earlier said eight Turks and one Afghan were missing.

Logar Provincial Government spokesman Din Mohammad Darvish said seven Turks, two Ukrainians and an Afghan interpreter were on the helicopter when it landed in Azra District.

“We have also been talking to the village elders to persuade the Taliban to release the captives,” he said.

Azra District Governor Hamidullah Hamid said the captives were thought to be in the district’s Mangal Valley, a Taliban-controlled area.

The helicopter had been traveling from the eastern city of Khost to Kabul when it was forced to land.

An ISAF spokesman said NATO troops were ready to assist Afghanistan security forces, but that there had been no request so far.

Turkey, one of NATO’s two Muslim-majority members, has about 1,800 soldiers serving with ISAF.