UK hostage recovers after special forces rescue

 

A British aid worker held hostage in Afghanistan is recovering from her ordeal today after special forces swooped on a remote hide-out.

Helen Johnston, 28, was dramatically rescued yesterday in an early morning raid following her 12-day ordeal.

Prime Minister David Cameron later commended the soldiers who carried out the "extraordinarily brave, breath-taking" operation and returned her to safety.

In a strongly-worded statement issued outside 10 Downing Street, he also warned hostage-takers could "expect a swift and brutal end".

The rescue attempt was authorised amid increasing concerns for the safety of Ms Johnston and her colleagues from Medair, a humanitarian non-governmental organisation based near Lausanne, Switzerland.

The aid worker, Kenyan national Moragwe Oirere, 26, and two Afghan civilians were abducted by a group associated with the Taliban on May 22 as they visited relief project sites in Badakhshan province in the north-east of the country.

The Government's emergency committee Cobra met daily following the kidnappings.

A number of Taliban and hostage-takers were killed during the rescue operation on Friday night.

It came after forces set out on a "long route march" without being detected.

The Prime Minister was told the operation - which involved British troops, ISAF forces and the Afghan government - had been a success at around 2am.

"It was an extraordinarily brave, breath-taking even, operation that our troops had to carry out," Mr Cameron said.

"I pay tribute to their skill and dedication."

He said the rescue should serve as a warning to terrorists across the world who take British citizens hostage.

"They should know if they take British citizens as hostage we do not pay ransoms, we do not trade prisoners," he added.

"They can expect a swift and brutal end."

Ms Johnston was taken to the British Embassy in Kabul shortly after the operation.

She is understood to have spoken to her family but remains in Afghanistan.

In a brief conversation with Mr Cameron, she thanked the Prime Minister for the efforts of all those involved in bringing her to safety.

Her parents Philip and Patricia and brother Peter said they were "deeply grateful" to those who rescued her.

"We are delighted and hugely relieved by the wonderful news that Helen and all her colleagues have been freed," they said.

"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 twelve 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."

Ms Johnston previously told of the "Somalian-type" levels of malnutrition she witnessed during her work in north-east Afghanistan and said she regularly saw skeletal and "other-worldly" children.

In an interview with the London Evening Standard in November, she said it was worth putting up with the "gruelling" nature of life in an often "cold, damp and miserable" region where she and female colleagues had to be covered up and escorted when they went out.

"It can be frustrating and hard, but there is no doubt that there is a fundamental need for us to be here. Too many children are suffering for us not to be," she said.

Aurelien Demaurex, a spokesman for Medair, said the aid workers would now be reunited with their families.

Since the kidnapping, the charity kept a lid on publicity which it felt could jeopardise efforts to secure a release.

"We are really, really happy," he said.

"Medair is relieved that our colleagues are safe. We are immensely grateful to all parties involved in ensuring their swift and safe return."

According to its website, the organisation has worked in Afghanistan since 1996, providing relief to vulnerable and isolated communities.

Hostage rescue operations are fraught with risk and have recently resulted in tragedy.

Chris McManus was killed in Nigeria in March during a mission involving UK special forces.

The building firm contractor was killed alongside an Italian colleague as Nigerian troops and British Special Boat Service commandos launched a failed mission in west Africa.

The Briton had been held by terrorists associated with Islamist extremist group Boko Haram since May last year.

Aid worker Linda Norgrove, 36, died during a mission in Afghanistan in October 2010.

She was killed by a grenade thrown by a US soldier during the operation, although Wiltshire coroner David Ridley did not blame him or his comrades for the tragic mistake.

PA

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