American, Australian kidnapped at gunpoint in Kabul

KABUL: Gunmen wearing police uniforms kidnapped an American and an Australian in the heart of Kabul, officials said Monday, the latest in a series of abductions of foreigners in the conflict-torn country.

The two professors at the American University of Afghanistan were seized from their vehicle on Sunday evening, as the kidnappers smashed the passenger window and hauled them away at gunpoint.

No group has so far claimed responsibility for the abductions, which come three days after a group of foreign tourists were ambushed by the Taliban in western Herat province, underscoring the growing insecurity in Afghanistan.

“Two foreign professors, one American and the other Australian, were abducted at gunpoint from Dar-ul-Aman road in the centre of Kabul city,” interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told AFP.

“Indications are that they were kidnapped by a criminal group.”

The driver and a guard inside the vehicle, both unharmed, have been held for questioning, another security official told AFP.

Four gunmen wearing police uniforms were involved in the abduction, according to a Western official in Kabul.

The Afghan capital is infested with organised criminal gangs who stage kidnappings for ransom, often targeting foreigners and wealthy Afghans, and sometimes handing them over to insurgent groups.

The US State Department said it was aware of reports of the kidnapping of an American but declined to comment further.

The Australian government confirmed the “apparent kidnapping” of one its citizens, citing its embassy in Kabul, but also refused to elaborate due to security considerations.

“We continue to advise Australians not to travel to Afghanistan because of the extremely dangerous security situation, including the serious threat of kidnapping,” the government said in a statement.

 

This appeared to be the first reported abduction related to a private university in Afghanistan.

The elite American University of Afghanistan, which opened in 2006 and enrols more than 1,700 students, was not immediately reachable for comment. It has attracted a number of visiting faculty members from Western countries.

The abductions highlight the growing dangers faced by foreigners in Afghanistan.

Foreign tourists, including British, American and German nationals, came under Taliban fire on Thursday in a volatile district of Herat, leaving some of them wounded. They were safely evacuated to Kabul and were flown out of the country.

Aid workers in particular have increasingly been casualties of a surge in militant violence in recent years.

Judith D’Souza, a 40-year-old Indian employee of the Aga Khan Foundation, a prominent NGO that has long worked in Afghanistan, was rescued last month after she was abducted near her residence in the heart of Kabul on the night of June 9.

D’Souza’s abduction came after Katherine Jane Wilson, a well-known Australian NGO worker, was kidnapped on April 28 in the city of Jalalabad, close to the border with Pakistan.

Wilson, said to be aged 60, ran an organisation known as Zardozi, which promotes the work of Afghanartisans, particularly women.

The United States in May warned its citizens in Afghanistan of a “very high” kidnapping risk after an American narrowly escaped abduction in the heart of Kabul.

In April last year the bullet-riddled bodies of five Afghan workers for Save the Children were found after they were abducted by gunmen in the strife-torn southern province of Uruzgan. AFP