Fri, Apr 09, 2010 - Page 5 News List

Taliban free Greek after seven-month kidnapping ordeal

AFP AND THE GUARDIAN , CHITRAL, PAKISTAN, WASINGTON AND ISLAMABAD

Afghan Taliban have released a Greek man safe and well seven months after he was kidnapped in northwest Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan, officials said yesterday.

“He is released,” said Petros Mavroidis, the Greek ambassador to Islamabad. “We talked with him and he is in the hands of competent agencies and they will bring him today or tomorrow to Islamabad to the Greek embassy.”

Pakistani officials said Athanassios Lerounis’s seven-month abduction ordeal ended late on Wednesday after he was released in Afghanistan and brought across the border into Pakistan’s northwestern Chitral valley.

Elders from Chitral had been negotiating with those holding Lerounis in the neighboring Afghan province Nuristan, the official said.

He was kidnapped on Sept. 7 last year while working for an aid group among the ethnic Kalash community in the mountains of Chitral.

The group had demanded a ransom and that Pakistan release three detained Afghan Taliban leaders, but Rahmatullah Wazir, the top administrative official in Chitral, said none of their demands had been met and that Lerounis had been released unconditionally.

Mohammad Jafer, a senior police official in Chitral, confirmed the recovery following negotiations for his safe release.

Greece’s Athens News Agency reported in October last year that negotiations were underway for Lerounis’s release after his Taliban-affiliated kidnappers demanded a ransom and the release of three Taliban leaders held in Pakistan.

Some Kalash are fair with light-colored eyes, leading to academic speculation that they might be descended from an ancient Middle Eastern population or even from soldiers of Alexander the Great’s army, which conquered the area in the fourth century BC.

In another hostage situation, the Taliban has released a new video of US soldier Bowe Bergdahl captured last year in Afghanistan, calling for his exchange for Taliban prisoners, the IntelCenter monitoring service said yesterday.

The nearly eight-minute video showed Bergdahl, in a beard and wearing an army jacket, reading a newspaper and doing pushups, the service said.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid is heard at the end of the video making a statement, with English subtitles, reiterating Taliban demands for the release “a limited number of prisoners in exchange for this American prisoner.”

Bergdahl was captured on June 30 last year. The Taliban has already released two earlier videos showing him to be alive.

In the most recent kidnapping, a British documentary filmmaker has gone missing after setting out to interview Taliban leaders in Pakistan’s lawless tribal area.

Two former senior members of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, who were acting as guides, are believed to have been abducted at the same time.

Asad Qureshi was making a film in North Waziristan, the most dangerous tract of the tribal belt that borders Afghanistan. There were unconfirmed reports that a second Briton was working in the team.

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