Tue, Aug 21, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Afghan police rescue German captive

RAID Christina Meier was set free soon after appearing in a video in which she was shown being prompted to speak and asking German authorities to work for her release


Afghan police rescued a German aid worker who was snatched while dining with her husband at a restaurant in the capital, and arrested four suspected kidnappers in the sting operation yesterday, officials said.

Hundreds of police freed the 31-year-old German in a raid at 12.30am in western Kabul not far from the area where she was taken captive on Saturday, Interior Ministry spokesman Zemerai Bashary said.

He said authorities have arrested and are interrogating "four suspects who are directly involved in this case." He said more than 300 police were involved in the operation.

"We arrested four people, one of them is in the top of this band," Bashary told reporters. "The rest were his colleagues, his friends."

Police are searching for other accomplices, he said. Preliminary investigations show that the gang was criminal, and that they demanded US$1 million for the woman's release.

A video broadcast on Sunday said the kidnappers were demanding a prisoner swap.

Amrullah Saleh, the head of the Afghan intelligence service, said the leader of the criminal gang had been freed from a northern Afghan prison two months earlier.

Saleh and Interior Minister Zarar Ahmad Muqbal oversaw the operation, which involved police and intelligence officers.

A spokeswoman for Germany's Foreign Ministry in Berlin confirmed the woman was "in safety at the German Embassy" in Kabul.

Earlier in the day, the captive, who identified herself as Christina Meier, appeared on a video broadcast by a local television station.

Meier, who worked for the Christian organization Ora International in Kabul, was taken by four men who pulled up to the restaurant in a gray Toyota Corolla. One went inside and asked to order a pizza, two others waited outside the restaurant, and a third remained in the car, intelligence officials investigating the incident said.

The man in the restaurant pulled out a pistol, walked up to a table where Meier was sitting with her husband and took her, the officials said on condition of anonymity. The husband was not abducted.

Police spotted the speeding car and opened fire, but hit a nearby taxi and killed its driver.

On Sunday, a private Afghan television station broadcast a video in which Meier was shown sitting on the floor inside a room, her head covered with a white scarf.

She was prompted to make remarks both in English and in Dari by a man speaking in broken English. The man then instructed her to show a copy of her German passport and an ID card issued by the aid group she works for.

Tolo TV, which broadcast the video, did not say how it obtained it.

"I am fine. There are no threats against me. I want my country to do what it can for my release," she said in Dari, reading from a piece of paper.

A voice off camera prompted her to say, "to help" and told her to also use the word "urgent."

"Please help for my release, and help me," she said.

A man wearing sunglasses, and his head covered with a scarf, later appeared in the video and demanded that the Afghan government release a number of unidentified prisoners. He said a member of their group would provide the government with a list.

"We are not bad people. We are a special network," the man said at the end of the video.

Meanwhile, dozens of Taliban insurgents attacked an Afghan army compound in southern Afghanistan, and the ensuing gunbattle left 10 suspected militants dead and four others wounded, an official said yesterday. There were no casualties among Afghan troops.

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