Afghan kidnappers threaten to execute three UN hostages

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The Independent Online

Afghan militants have released a video of a British woman and her two United Nations colleagues whom they are holding hostage.

Afghan militants have released a video of a British woman and her two United Nations colleagues whom they are holding hostage.

A spokesman for the previously obscure Taliban splinter group Jaish-al Muslimeen threatened to begin executing them at midday on Wednesday unless British troops and the UN pull out of Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay detainees are released.

A spokesman, Ishaq Manzoor, said: "They have to comply with our demands in three days, otherwise we will kill these three. Like in Iraq, the UN has to leave." He had previously threatened to "chop up" and behead the hostages. The video, aired on al-Jazeera television, showed the three election experts huddled together against a wall looking tired and scared. No sound was broadcast on the al-Jazeera clip.

Manuel del Almeida e Silva, a UN spokesman, confirmed that the three were the missing UN staff. He said: "We are relieved that they look unharmed. We call for their early release."

The three ­ Annetta Flanigan from Armagh in Northern Ireland, Angelito Nayan, a Filipino diplomat, and Shqipe Habibi from Kosovo ­ had been working on Afghanistan's elections earlier this month and had been expected to return home soon.

The kidnappers said one of the women had been treated by a doctor. They were kidnapped on a busy Kabul street on Thursday by an armed gang who beat the driver of their car and manhandled the three into their own vehicle as one of the women screamed.

Afghan and Nato security forces have launched a huge manhunt, rounding up known criminals and raiding the properties of warlords. Investigators are apparently working on the theory that a criminal gang may have been subcontracted to carry out the kidnapping.

Scotland Yard anti-terrorist police arrived in Afghanistan within 24 hours of the abduction. The expert hostage negotiators are said to be standing by in an advisory capacity. There was no immediate response by the British embassy or by the UN to the kidnappers' demands.

Afghan government officials, who had previously suggested that warlords may have been behind the kidnapping, expressed surprise that the Taliban were capable of carrying out such a sophisticated operation in the centre of Kabul, especially after they failed in a pledge to wreck the elections.

US military commanders have publicly speculated in recent months that the Taliban is finished as a military force.

Jaish announced its formation in August in the Pakistani press, promising to reinvigorate the flagging jihad in Afghanistan. The group was blamed for the kidnapping of a Turkish engineer in southern Afghan-istan, who was later released. It also claims to have killed US soldiers in guerrilla attacks.

Its leader, Akbar Agha, is a little-known Taliban commander from near Kandahar, the Taliban's former spiritual homeland, who is barely known even in the southern city.

Many Taliban leaders have expressed doubt that it is their movement which has carried out the abduction and many Afghans have expressed revulsion that women should be threatened in what most see as a flagrant and cowardly breach of traditional Pashtun tribal codes.

Jaish is thought to be based in the Pakistani city of Quetta, home to thousands of Afghan Taliban. Analysts in Kabul were unsure whether the group was a hardline faction which had broken away from mainstream Taliban figures, many of whom are thought to have begun negotiations with the government in recent months, or an attempt by the Taliban leadership to launch an offensive.

'I have cried and cried and I just can't cry any more'

The hostages are seen being subjected to a bizarre interrogation in a complete copy of the video obtained by the APTN news agency in Pakistan.

A man standing off-camera asks why America and Nato have sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq. "We have nothing to do with America," Angelito Nayan says. "We are here for the Afghan people ... We are United Nations workers."

Shqipe Habibi explains that she is from Kosovo, but her abductor seems unsure where that is. "It is a Muslim country," she says. "I thought I could help a Muslim country."

Their interviewer repeatedly asks them what they are doing in Afghanistan, and does not seem to understand their answers. Towards the end he appears to ask Annetta Flanigan to cry for the camera, to which she replies: "I have cried and cried and I can't cry any more."