Red Cross in talks with kidnappers

KABUL, Afghanistan – The International Committee of the Red Cross has established contact with the armed group that kidnapped four of its workers but no progress has been made, officials said Friday.
On Saturday, meanwhile, a large bomb ripped through a crowded police bus in Kabul, killing many police officers, witnesses and a police officer said.

Witnesses said the bus had been torn apart by the blast and that body parts had been scattered in many directions. A police officer at the scene said the bus had been full when the blast ripped through it. Separately in the south, a remote-control bomb in a market killed four people, including two children, an official said Friday.

The four ICRC employees — a national from Myanmar, one from Macedonia and two from Afghanistan — were seized Wednesday in the central province of Ghazni while trying to secure the release of a German captive.

“We have established contact with all parties concerned with the aim of resolving this situation as quickly as possibly,” said Graziella Leite, an ICRC spokeswoman in Afghanistan.

Leite said the ICRC was referring to the kidnappers as an “armed group.”

The number of kidnappings — both by Taliban militants and individual criminal networks — have increased in recent months.

Militants had initially released the German, Rudolf Blechschmidt, but then re-captured him along with the four ICRC employees.

The chief of the Sayad Abad district of Wardak province, where the four were taken, said elders had spoken with the kidnappers late Thursday “but didn’t achieve anything.”

Enaytullah Mangal said the hostages had been taken from his district and into the neighboring province of Ghazni — where 23 South Koreans were kidnapped earlier this year. But the governor of Ghazni province said the hostages were still in Wardak.

The U.S.-led coalition and Afghan authorities have been hunting the kidnappers of the South Koreans since their release in August.

The coalition said Friday that six insurgents had been detained in an operation in Ghazni that aimed to capture a Taliban leader behind the kidnappings. It wasn’t immediately clear if the leader was among the six captured, the coalition said.

The explosion in Gereshk in Helmand province was apparently aimed at Afghan police. Two children, a man and one police officer were killed in the blast, said Gereshk district chief Manaf Khan. He said the Taliban were responsible.

Blechschmidt, a German engineer, was abducted on July 18, one day before the South Koreans were captured.

Blechschmidt is one of two German engineers and five Afghans who were seized together. The other German was found dead of gunshot wounds on July 21, while one of the Afghans managed to escape.

It was not immediately clear how many Afghans were being held with Blechschmidt, although McGoldrick said there were five with him.

The number of kidnappings has spiked this year after the Taliban secured the release of five insurgent prisoners in exchange for a captive Italian journalist in March — a heavily criticized swap that many feared would encourage abductions.

The South Korean hostage crisis was another windfall for the Taliban, winning them face-to-face talks with South Korean government delegates.

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