Sat, Jan 07, 2012 - Page 6 News List

British Red Cross worker kidnapped in Pakistan

AFP, QUETTA, PAKISTAN

Unidentified gunmen on Thursday kidnapped a British employee of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Pakistan’s insurgency-hit southwestern province of Baluchistan.

The ICRC said its health program manager Khalil Rasjed Dale was seized at about lunchtime in Quetta, the main town of the province, which borders both Iran and Afghanistan.

Violence in Baluchistan has surged in recent years and it has seen a number of abductions of Westerners, including the local head of the UN refugee agency in 2009 and two Swiss tourists last year.

The ICRC said Dale was taken as he returned home from work, but police, quoting witnesses, said he was abducted in front of his office by eight masked gunmen who were lying in wait for him.

A statement from the humanitarian organization called for Dale’s “swift and unconditional release” and said it had no information about the identities or motives of his captors.

ICRC spokesman Christian Cardon said in Geneva that Dale was abducted by armed men as he headed for his house after work, according to local witnesses.

The ICRC announced a reduction of its activities in Pakistan this week, with the closure of three of its centers in the northwest, but after Dale’s abduction vowed to continue its work in the troubled country.

Elsewhere in Pakistan on Thursday, the bullet-scarred bodies of 15 members of the paramilitary Frontier Constabulary were found, almost two weeks after they were kidnapped from a town in the militant-infested northwest.

Tehreek-e-Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan claimed responsibility for the killings saying: “We have taken revenge for continued operations of security forces against us. They are in fact fighting for Americans.”

Separately, police in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi on Thursday arrested four militants of Tehreek-e-Taliban including a senior Taliban operative.

“We have arrested four Taliban operatives including Abdul Qayoom Mehsud, who was a guard of former Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud,” senior police official Ghulam Shabbir Shaikh said.

Baitullah Mehsud, former head of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, was killed in a US drone strike in August 2009. US and Pakistani officials had named him as the main suspect in the 2007 assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

Kidnappings are a plague in parts of Baluchistan and northwest Pakistan, where criminals looking for ransom snatch foreigners and locals, sometimes passing their hostages on to Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked groups.

A senior ICRC official, quoted by Pakistan media, said his organization was facing problems in Quetta, but gave no further details.

Rebels rose up in Baluchistan in 2004 to demand political autonomy and a greater share of profits from the region’s natural oil, gas and mineral resources.

In 2009, the local head of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) John Solecki was snatched at gunpoint in Quetta on Feb. 2. His driver was killed during the abduction. He was released after nearly nine weeks.

Last year, Warren Weinstein, 70, country director for US-based consultancy J.E. Austin Associates, was snatched after gunmen tricked their way into his home in Lahore on Aug. 13, days before he was scheduled to return to the US.

Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al--Zawahiri claimed responsibility and demanded that Washington end air strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, and release the 1993 World Trade Center bombers and relatives of Osama bin Laden.

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