Church pleads for release of British hostage in Kabul

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The Independent Online

The hunt for British hostage Annetta Flanigan was continuing in Afghanistan last night as church leaders at home urged people to pray for her release.

The hunt for British hostage Annetta Flanigan was continuing in Afghanistan last night as church leaders at home urged people to pray for her release.

The Church of Ireland Primate Robin Eames joined the UN secretary general Kofi Annan in calling for the Northern Irish woman to be freed as her local MP issued a personal plea to her kidnappers.

Ms Flanigan, a UN electoral worker from Richhill, Co Armagh, and two colleagues were kidnapped by rebels in Kabul on Thursday.

Two of the hostages are women; Ms Flanigan, who has dual British and Irish citizenship and a Kosovan. The third was a male Philippine diplomat. All three work for a joint UN-Afghan commission overseeing the presidential elections.

Ms Flanigan's family has refused to speak to the media, but the head of the Church of Ireland offered them his prayers.

"While the privacy of their home should be respected, I want them to know of the prayers and support of a host of people," he said. "I pray that they will all be strengthened and upheld by God's love in their anxiety and time of waiting for news."

Seamus Mallon, the SDLP MP for Newry and Armagh, called for Ms Flanigan's release. "We can all be proud of aid workers and election workers like Annetta who make great sacrifices help others in troubled areas of the world," he said.

"We must hope that she will be returned safe and well to her family as soon as possible."

Mr Annan said that the United Nations was hoping there would be an "immediate and unconditional release".

In Richhill, local people awaited news. Noel Gallagher, who runs the local cycle shop, said: "People can't believe it, they think it's so cruel. Everybody's thoughts are with the family, everybody's praying she'll be released."

The kidnappers have yet to be identified. Officials in Kabul refused to comment on claims by a Taliban splinter group that it was holding the hostages and would execute them if security forces closed on them.

A spokesman for the British embassy said that he was "not prepared" to say whether they knew which group was behind the kidnapping or if any demands had been made.

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