Gunmen kidnap French aid worker from Kabul street

KABUL, Afghanistan – Gunmen kidnapped a French aid worker off the streets of Kabul on Monday and killed an intelligence agency employee who tried to intervene, in the latest attack against Westerners in the Afghan capital.

Three assailants in a red Corolla blocked the roadway, then tried to grab two French aid workers on their way to work, officials said. After a scuffle they got away with only one, said Mohammad Daud Amin, a neighborhood police commander.

A witness, Mohammad Shafi, said the man who intervened lived across the way.

“He grabbed the machine gun of one of the kidnappers, who opened fire, burning his hand. After that the kidnapper shot him three times in the chest,” Shafi said.

The Interior Ministry said the dead Afghan was the driver for the provincial intelligence chief.

“A resident tried to prevent this kidnapping. A kidnapper opened fire and killed him. They were able to kidnap one Frenchman,” Amin told The Associated Press.

Etienne Gille, president of AFRANE, a French aid group focusing on education, said the kidnapping took place as a member of its staff and a man from a second French aid group were being driven from a residence rented by ARFANE to its offices.

“The car was blocked by another car that was driving the wrong way,” from which “an armed man emerged,” Gille told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. AFRANE’s employee managed to escape, while the other aid worker was taken, he said.

Gille declined to provide the name or organization for which the kidnapped man worked but said he was in his 30s. The man, a French national, had been in Afghanistan about a week, Gille said, adding he believed it was his first time in the country.

The man’s family has been informed, Gille said.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Frederic Desagneaux said French officials in Paris and Kabul were mobilized in order “to win the liberation of our compatriot as soon as possible.”

A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, denied Taliban involvement.

The abduction adds to the increasing anxiety felt by the international community in Kabul, which has experienced a rise in abductions and targeted shootings in recent weeks.

Kidnappings by criminal groups in Afghanistan have spiked over the last year because of the lucrative ransoms that are paid to free hostages. Wealthy Afghans are typically targeted in the kidnappings, which are rarely reported in the media. The Taliban also kidnap Westerners and Afghans, but those abductions typically take place in rural provinces.

Last month, U.S. special forces freed an American working for the Army Corps of Engineers who had been kidnapped and held for two months in Wardak province, one province west of Kabul.

But Kabul itself has also seen a spike in crime against Westerners. Last month, a British-South African dual citizen aid worker was killed by Taliban gunmen while walking on the street. Also, two employees of the international shipping company DHL, one a British citizen and the other a South African, were killed by a gunman outside their office.

Criminal gangs also kidnapped a former Afghan presidential candidate and the son of the president of a large Afghan bank. The two were rescued by Afghan intelligence officials.

Gille said the group was considering how best to respond to the kidnapping, in consultation with its three French volunteers in the country.

“We are obliged to think about the situation of the current volunteers,” he said. “We will maintain some kind of presence in Afghanistan but obviously we are forced to think about the current parameters of our presence.”

In southern Afghanistan, coalition and Afghan troops hunting for Taliban militants discovered a drug lab and destroyed more than 40 tons of hashish Monday, officials said.

“Today’s discovery clearly demonstrated the links between the Taliban and drug trafficking,” said Col. Greg Julian, the spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Gen. Abdul Raziq, the border police commander for southern Afghanistan, said the drugs were in the basement of a compound in Nawa Kili village. He said American military helicopters were used during the raid.

The area where the drugs were discovered is littered with small drug labs. Drug runners transporting Afghanistan’s major cash crop — opium — over the border with Pakistan use the region as a staging ground.

Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium, the main ingredient for the production of heroin. But the country also grows large quantities of cannabis, the plant used to produce hashish and marijuana.

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