AFP – Taliban militants have freed three Afghans abducted with two French colleagues nearly two months ago, their aid group and a spokesman for the extremist movement said Sunday.
Their ongoing detention even after the release of the French nationals had raised fears the Afghans would be executed like some previous hostages.
But Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said they were found “not guilty,” and that there had been numerous demands for their release.
“Our court and leadership council decided to free them,” he told AFP in a telephone call from an unknown location, adding that they had been released Saturday.
The French aid organisation Terre d’Enfance (A World For Our Children) and local police confirmed Sunday that the men were now free.
“Fifty-two days after their kidnapping, Rasul, Hashim and Azrat have today been freed,” Antoine Vuillaume, the president of the organisation, told AFP.
“They arrived this morning in Zaranj where they have rejoined their families,” referring to a town in Nimroz province, southwest Afghanistan.
Nimroz police chief Mohammad Daud Askaryar said: “The families of the three abducted Afghans assured us that they have returned home safe and sound.”
The French embassy in Kabul declined to comment.
The three Afghans and their two French colleagues, Eric Damfreville and Celine Cordelier, were kidnapped in southern Afghanistan on April 3.
The hardline Islamic militants first freed Cordelier on April 28 with a written message to the French government demanding it withdraw its troops from Afghanistan.
Damfreville was freed two weeks later and handed over to the Red Cross, which then delivered him to French authorities at the airport in the southern city of Kandahar, a Taliban stronghold.
The five aid workers were driving in Nimroz, where they were working on a children’s project in Zaranj on the border with Iran, when they were seized.
Days before, a five-person Afghan medical team was kidnapped in Kandahar province, and militants said they wanted certain Taliban prisoners freed in exchange for the five.
The Taliban has killed several of its Afghan hostages, including a driver and a reporter abducted early March with an Italian journalist who was freed in exchange for five Taliban prisoners, some of them high-profile militants.
Kabul has vowed there will be no more prisoner exchanges after the deal for the Italian journalist, which provoked angry accusations that the government cared more about the foreign hostage than the two Afghans who were killed.
The insurgents target Afghan and foreign forces, aid groups, the United Nations and those who work for the Afghan government.