German captive freed in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan – Four suspected kidnappers were captured Monday as Afghan police freed a German aid worker who had been snatched from a restaurant while she ate with her husband, officials said.Hundreds of police freed the 31-year-old woman in a raid after midnight in western Kabul, not far from the area where she was taken captive on Saturday, said Interior Ministry spokesman Zemerai Bashary.

He said authorities arrested and are interrogating “four suspects who are directly involved in this case.” He said more than 300 police took part in the operation.

Police are searching for other accomplices, Bashary said.

Preliminary investigations indicate that it was a criminal gang — and not Islamic insurgents — who carried out the kidnapping, and that they demanded $1 million for the woman’s release.

A video broadcast 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. She declined to give any further details.

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 Germany-based 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 customary 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.

In the video broadcast Sunday, 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 the Afghan language 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 the footage.

“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, occasionally looking toward the camera.

A male 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.

Authorities, meanwhile, detained a suspect involved in the murder of two German journalists, killed last October in the northern province of Baghlan, Bashary said.

The suspect was detained last week in the same province where the murder happened, Bashary said, without elaborating.

Karen Fischer and Christian Struwe, freelance reporters working for Deutsche Welle, Germany’s state-owned broadcast outlet, were shot to death outside a small village where they had set-up a tent to spend the night.

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

The clash began Sunday night when the Taliban fired on the compound in the Sangin district of Helmand province, said Eizatullah Khan, the district chief.


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