Afghan kidnappers may extend deadline
An Afghan militant group threatening to kill three foreign U.N. workers unless the United States frees all Taliban and al Qaeda prisoners said on Tuesday a deadline for their execution may be extended if talks with a mediator progress.
But Mullah Sayed Mohammad Akbar Agha, leader of the Jaish-e-Muslimeen (Army of Muslims), told Reuters that Wednesday's noon deadline remained for the moment, and he said Afghan President Hamid Karzai was interfering in the negotiating process.
"I am chief of the organization and have the right to extend or not to extend the deadline," Agha said. "The decision will depend on the progress of the negotiations."
Filipino Angelito Nayan, Annetta Flanigan from Northern Ireland and Shqipe Hebibi from Kosovo were snatched from a busy street in the capital Thursday, sparking fears that militants were copying bloody tactics used by insurgents in Iraq, where dozens of foreigners have been kidnapped and many executed.
Agha said Karzai had tried to prevent a mediator working with the U.N. from negotiating with his Taliban splinter group.
"Karzai was disturbing the negotiating process," he said. "Karzai told the person that it was unsafe to go there and maybe he would be kidnapped as well."
Karzai's office said it would not comment while investigations were under say.
Agha said negotiations with a "tajir" -- an influential trader with wide contacts -- were continuing.
The group has released a video of the two women and a man, flanked by a masked militant, in which a series of demands are made that are unlikely to be met.
They have called for the release of all Taliban and al Qaeda prisoners in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, the evacuation of all foreign troops and the withdrawal of U.N. operations.
Disquiet has been growing among Afghans over the kidnappings and former president Burhanuddin Rabbani -- still an influential figure -- said the abductions were un-Islamic.
"How can we say these people are Muslims? How can we accept them?" he told Reuters in an interview. "They are creating a bad name for Muslim societies and Muslim people."
He described the hostages as people trying to help Afghanistan.
"There is another clear teaching from our Prophet Mohammad that if a Jew or a Christian, people of the book, come to a Muslim country and anyone tries to harm them, then God will be against them," he said.
Agha said the U.N. negotiator had asked for more proof of life from the hostages and the group would provide it shortly.
"The U.N. had asked us to ask the captives names of their siblings and husbands to make sure they are alive," he said.
The government has previously negotiated the release of several foreign nationals kidnapped by Taliban fugitives, in return for a ransom, and some security sources say a ransom could be the best hope in this case.
"Of course, the danger is that you just make kidnapping for ransom a very easy way to make money," said a Western security official.
"You may save three lives, but then everyone else becomes a target. If this happens, then clearly the kidnappings become a case of banditry rather than political ideology."
The government said Monday it hoped to save the trio. but refused to go into detail saying this could jeopardize the process.
The three had been helping to organize Afghanistan's first presidential election, which was held on Oct. 9.
Karzai is the undeclared winner of the presidential election and is expected to pick a new cabinet by the end of November.