Kidnapped British aid worker freed


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The Independent Online

A British aid worker kidnapped in north east Afghanistan last month has been freed by coalition forces, the Foreign Office said today.

Helen Johnston, Kenyan national Moragwe Oirere and two Afghan civilians were rescued in an early morning raid after being kidnapped on May 22 in Badakhshan province.

All four work for Medair, a humanitarian non-governmental organisation based near Lausanne, Switzerland.

The rescue operation was an "extraordinarily brave, breath-taking'' operation, Prime Minister David Cameron said today.

Mr Cameron said he authorised the rescue attempt yesterday afternoon, after becoming increasingly concerned about the safety of Ms Johnston and her colleagues.

He said all four hostages were rescued safely, no British troops were injured and a number of Taliban and hostage-takers were killed.

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

"I pay tribute to their skill and dedication."

The Prime Minister 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.

"They can expect a swift and brutal end."

A Foreign Office spokesman said Ms Johnston's family were "hugely relieved" by the news.

"They are all now safe. Helen and Moragwa are receiving support from British Embassy staff in Kabul," the spokesman said.

"The two Afghan aid workers are returning to their families in Badakhshan.

"Staff from the FCO remain in close contact with Helen's family who are understandably hugely relieved at this news. We are also in touch with Moragwa's family and with the Afghan and Kenyan governments, and Medair have been in close contact with the families of the Afghan aid workers.

"Helen and her colleagues were rescued by ISAF forces, including UK forces, in a carefully planned and coordinated operation. This operation was ordered by the Commander of ISAF and was authorised by the Prime Minister.

"We pay tribute to the bravery of the coalition forces which means that all four aid workers will soon be rejoining their families and loved ones. We have worked closely with the Afghan authorities throughout and we would like to thank them for their support."

The operation, which involved helicopters carrying international troops arriving under cover of darkness, was approved by David Cameron.

General John R Allen, commander of the International Security Assistance Force, said the rescue mission showed the coalition's commitment to defeating the Taliban.

"First, I would like to thank the Afghan Ministry of the Interior and Minister Mohammadi for their tremendous support throughout this crisis," he said.

"Second, this morning's mission, conducted by coalition forces, exemplifies our collective and unwavering commitment to defeat the Taliban.

"I'm extremely grateful to the Afghan authorities and proud of the ISAF forces that planned, rehearsed, and successfully conducted this operation.

"Thanks to them, Ms Helen Johnston, Ms Moragwe Oirere, and their two co-workers will soon be rejoining their families and loved ones."

In a statement, Ms Johnston's family - parents Philip and Patricia and her brother Peter - said: "We are delighted and hugely relieved by the wonderful news that Helen and all her colleagues have been freed.

"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."

A British hostage was killed in Nigeria in March when an attempted rescue involving UK special forces ended in tragedy.

Chris McManus, working in the country as a 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 UK national had been held by terrorists associated with Islamist extremist group Boko Haram since May last year after being kidnapped from his apartment by gunmen.

Prime Minister David Cameron was criticised when it emerged that Italian authorities were not notified about the covert operation until it was under way.

Aid worker Linda Norgrove died during a mission to rescue her from hostage takers in Afghanistan in October 2010. Ms Norgrove, 36, 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.

Three Afghans captured with her were released unharmed a few days later.

It is understood there have been daily meetings of the Government's emergency committee Cobra since the aid workers were kidnapped.

Mr Cameron chaired three of them.

The Prime Minister spoke to Ms Johnston shortly after she arrived at the British Embassy in Kabul following the successful rescue attempt.

During their brief conversation she thanked Mr Cameron for efforts of all those involved in bringing her to safety.

The Prime Minister was told the operation had been a success at around 2am. He then stayed up to speak to military commanders on the ground and thank them for what they had done.

This morning he also spoke to the Chief of the Defence Staff and the Commander and Deputy Commander of ISAF in Afghanistan to thank them for their efforts.