American kidnapped in Afghanistan

January 26, 2008 8:35:28 AM PST
Gunmen kidnapped a burqa-clad American aid worker and her driver in southern Afghanistan's largest city early Saturday, snatching the woman from a residential neighborhood as she was on her way to work.

The American worked in Kandahar for the Asian Rural Life Development Foundation, said Jeff Palmer, its international director. Palmer said the group had not been contacted by the kidnappers and that he did not know their identity or demands.

Asadullah Khalid, the provincial governor, blamed the kidnappings on the "enemy of Islam and the enemy of Afghanistan." Khalid said the 49-year-old American was wearing a burqa when she was taken.

Several Westerners - including two German construction workers and two Italian journalists - have been kidnapped in Afghanistan in the last year, but this was the first kidnapping of an American in recent memory.

A professor at Kandahar University, Mohammad Gul, said the American taught English language lessons at the university and embroidery lessons at a girl's school.

Gul said she speaks the local language, Pashtu, well and that if Afghans asked about her background she would say she was from the Alakozai tribe - a well known Pashtun tribe in the Kandahar region.

"She is a very patient and calm woman," Gul said. "She was always thinking about Afghanistan's future."

Palmer, who declined to confirm the woman's name, said she has worked for ARLDF on income-generating women's projects in Kandahar for the last three years.

"It is our hope that our worker will be released safely and quickly and we are doing all that we can to resolve the situation," Palmer said. "This is a first for our organization and we're really praying for a quick resolution."

Traveling around Kandahar city has turned increasingly dangerous in the last year, as the Taliban insurgency has spread throughout southern Afghanistan. Western civilians who operate there often travel with armed guards and with extreme caution. The area is rife with Taliban militants and also with criminals linked to the country's booming opium poppy trade.

A Taliban spokesman said he had no immediate information that the Islamic militia was behind the kidnappings.

In a likely plea to the woman's captors, Khalid noted that the American respected Afghan traditions by wearing the burqa and speaking the local languages. She did not travel with armed guards, he said.

Projects run by the Asian Rural Life Development Foundation are located around the city of Kandahar and include food for work, irrigation rehabilitation, health care and restoration projects, according to the group's Web site. The group also has projects in Vietnam, China, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka.

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Associated Press writer Jason Straziuso contributed to this report from Kabul.


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