Saturday 20 January 2018

Hostages freed as raid kills seven Afghan kidnappers

Tracy McVeigh and Emma Graham-Harrison in Kabul

The parents of a British aid worker freed after a "breathtaking" Nato-led rescue mission in Afghanistan yesterday said they were "hugely relieved by the wonderful news".

Helen Johnston, 28, a nutritionist, had been held with three colleagues in the remote caves of the mountainous Badakhshan province since May 22 after being seized by an armed gang while travelling by donkey to a relief project site. A fifth member of the team had managed to escape.

At least seven people, said to be the hostage-takers, were killed in the night-time raid after Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) and Afghan forces reached the area using helicopters, an Isaf spokesman said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday that he had spoken to Ms Johnston by phone.

He described the operation to free her, Kenyan Moragwa Oirere, 26, and two unnamed Afghan civilians as an "extraordinarily brave, breathtaking" operation.

Mr Cameron said he had given his permission for the operation to go ahead on Friday after concerns rose over the safety of the hostages.

"We are delighted and hugely relieved. . . that Helen and all her colleagues have been freed," he said.

"The most important message is to terrorists around the world -- they should know if they take British citizens as hostage we do not pay ransoms, we do not trade prisoners. They can expect a swift and brutal end."

The captors were a mix of insurgent sympathisers and criminals, according to the governor of Badakhshan province. The kidnappers, Mr Cameron said, had told local elders who tried to negotiate a release that they wanted a $4m (€3.2m) ransom and the release of a notorious local criminal.

Ms Johnston's parents, Philip and Patricia, and her brother Peter said in a statement: "We are deeply grateful to everyone involved in her rescue, to those who worked tirelessly on her behalf, and to family and friends for their love, prayers and support over the last 12 days.

"We greatly appreciate the restraint shown by the media since her abduction, and ask that they continue to respect our privacy at this special time," the statement added.

The four hostages -- who are all said to be in good health -- work for Medair, a Swiss humanitarian non-governmental organisation.

Its spokesman, Aurelien Demaurex, said Medair was "immensely grateful to all parties involved in ensuring their swift and safe return".

The Isaf commander, General John Allen, thanked the Afghan interior ministry for "tremendous support throughout this crisis".

The successful mission was in contrast to recent efforts. In March the engineer Christopher McManus and his Italian colleague Franco Lamolinara died at the hands of their kidnappers after a failed operation in Nigeria involving British forces.

In October 2010 a rescue effort in Afghanistan ended in the death of the British aid worker Linda Norgrove.

Ms Johnston and Mr Oirere were now receiving support from British embassy staff in Kabul while the two Afghan aid workers had returned to their families in Badakhshan, the British Foreign Office said.

© Observer

Sunday Independent

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