Masked gunmen kidnapped a German aid worker and his Italian colleague on Thursday night in Pakistan’s central shrine city of Multan, local police said yesterday.
The kidnappings bring to six the number of Westerners abducted since July in nuclear-armed Pakistan, where US forces last year killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and which stands on the frontline of a Taliban insurgency.
“Three gunmen barged into a house and abducted an Italian and a German national at gunpoint on Thursday evening,” Multan City police officer Aamir Zulfiqar Khan said by telephone. “The two men were working for a foreign non-government organization.”
Police said the motive and identity of the kidnappers was unclear.
There was no claim of responsibility for the abductions in Multan, which is about 400km southwest of the capital Islamabad and which in the past has not been considered particularly dangerous for Westerners.
It is the largest city in central Punjab Province, known for its Sufi shrines, mosques and historic tombs. Southern Punjab is considered a recruiting ground for Taliban and other extremist Islamist groups.
A local security official said that the kidnappers pistol-whipped a private security guard, then snatched the aid workers, but left behind a Western woman in the house that the group rented.
“The woman was unable to identify the kidnappers because they covered their faces with masks,” the official said on condition of anonymity because he was not -authorized to speak to the media.
The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that one of its citizens had been kidnapped in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province that borders India, but did not release any other details.
It said it was in “permanent contact” with the man’s family and had activated its crisis unit, but called for discretion and cooperation from the media, “so as not to compromise efforts at freeing our compatriot.”
The foreigners reportedly work for an aid group that helps victims from Pakistan’s devastating 2010 floods that affected up to 21 million people.
The German Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Berlin was “aware of the reports and is the process of verifying them in cooperation with the Pakistani authorities.”
Kidnappings are a plague in parts of Pakistan, where criminals snatch foreigners and locals for ransom, sometimes selling their hostages onto Taliban and al--Qaeda-linked groups.
Earlier this month, gunmen kidnapped a British man working for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s insurgency-hit southwestern province of Baluchistan.
In August, a US development director, Warren Weinstein, 70, was snatched from his home in Lahore and in July a Swiss couple were kidnapped while driving through Baluchistan.
The Taliban claim to be holding the Swiss and videos have been released of the couple in captivity.
Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al--Zawahiri also claims to be holding Weinstein, but the terror group has released no proof of life.