South Asia

Search for Scottish aid worker kidnapped in Afghanistan

The two cars the people were in when they were stopped and kidnapped by armed men
Image caption The aid workers were travelling in two cars which were stopped by armed men

The search is continuing for a Scottish aid worker and three local staff who were kidnapped in Afghanistan on Sunday, security officials say.

They were travelling in two cars in the eastern province of Kunar when the vehicles were stopped by armed men.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the Taliban was "not taking responsibility" for the kidnapping.

The Foreign Office has confirmed a female UK citizen is missing and said her relatives had been contacted.

The woman, who was employed by US aid group DAI, is known to come from Scotland but has not been named.

DAI spokesman Steven O'Connor said the woman was a "dedicated development professional".

"We are deeply concerned and doing everything possibly to work with international and local agencies to secure her safety," he said.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "We are working closely with all the relevant local authorities. We are also in touch with the family and are providing consular assistance."

Remote area

Former colleagues of the woman, who used to work at the UN and has worked in Afghanistan for years, said they were praying for her safe release.

"She is the best foreigner I have ever met, she is wonderful - and loved by Afghans so much," said one colleague who did not want to be named.

No-one has so far said they carried out the abduction.

Mr Mujahid told the BBC the Taliban was "investigating the reports" but knew nothing about the abductions.

A senior security official told the BBC the group was taken away into nearby mountains on foot, and that the area was being searched by police and tribal elders.

The US military, which has a strong presence in the area, is also involved in the search.

A farmer witnessed the abduction but the area is so remote that it was two hours before he was able to report the incident to police, reports the BBC's Ian Pannell from Kabul.

The terrain of the area is mountainous and wooded, which would hamper any search efforts from the air, our correspondent says.

Militants and armed gangs use hidden valleys and mountain passes to move freely, he added.

Various armed groups operate in the area and the location of the abduction is not thought to be under government control.

'Stop targeting civilians'

Afghans and foreigners can be targeted by gangs seeking ransom money, but they are sometimes sold on to militant groups.

In July, a British private security guard was among four people killed in an attack on DAI offices in Kunduz, northern Afghanistan. Shaun Sexton, 29, from Northumberland, a former member of the Parachute Regiment, was working for the firm's security sub-contractor, Edinburgh International.

A month later, British doctor Karen Woo and nine other aid workers and translators were killed by gunmen in the north-eastern province of Badakhshan, in what police said was a robbery.

Dr Woo worked for Christian charity the International Assistance Mission, providing eye care in remote villages.

Laurent Salliard, a relief co-ordinator in Afghanistan, told the BBC the greatest risk to aid workers was not so much once they reached the community, but when they moved or travelled around.

Amnesty's Horia Mosadiq said the rising number of attacks had had a "huge impact" on communities that depended on the services provided by aid agencies in Afghanistan.

The area within which agencies operated was also "shrinking more and more" because of the daily risks, threats and dangers, she said.

"When MSF staff were killed in the northern part of Afghanistan, it took them a few years to return back and provide the same level of services.

"We are calling on all parties in Afghanistan to stop targeting civilians and provide a safe passage of aid and humanitarian assistance to the communities that are in need," she said.

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