Fears for French hostages after Taliban beheading

-File photo

Fears mounted on Monday for two French aid workers kidnapped by the Taliban after the rebels beheaded an abducted Afghan journalist and threatened to kill a local doctor.
The Taliban said it executed Afghan reporter Ajmal Naqshbandi, who was kidnapped last month with an Italian journalist, Daniele Mastrogiacomo, because the government failed to meet their demand to free rebel prisoners.
La Repubblica correspondent Mastrogiacomo was freed after two weeks in captivity in a controversial exchange for five Taliban prisoners which was widely condemned. His Afghan driver was beheaded.
“We killed Ajmal to show the public that (President Hamid) Karzai doesn’t care about Afghans,” Taliban spokesman Shohaabuddin Atal told AFP. “He freed five Taliban for a foreigner but not the two Taliban we demanded for Ajmal.”
The Taliban say they have been holding a French man and woman along with three Afghans since abducting them in the south-western province of Nimroz last on Tuesday. The guerrillas have not yet made any demand for their release.
Atal said Taliban leaders will decide the fate of the French aid workers from Terre d’Enfance (A World for Our Children) in “coming days” as they are now done with Naqshbandi.
He stepped up the pressure by saying that the Taliban would kill one of five Afghan medical workers who were abducted on March 27 in southern Kandahar province unless the government agrees to talks.
“We’ll kill one of the doctors if the government fails to enter negotiations before April 15,” Atal said. The fate of four other medics will be decided later, he added.
A senior government official speaking on condition of anonymity said he believed the Taliban killed Naqshbandi to pressure Karzai into making another similar deal to free the French nationals.
“If you remember when the Taliban killed Mastrogiacomo’s driver the government freed Taliban prisoners to save the Italian. I believe they killed Naqshbandi to scare us into accepting their demands again,” he told AFP.
“But I don’t think the government is in a position to comply with more such demands. It just can’t do it,” he said.
Karzai had described the prisoner exchange to free Mastrogiacomo as an “extraordinary” situation and said he would not release any more Taliban prisoners to save the Italian’s Afghan colleague.
La Repubblica’s editor in chief wrote on Monday that the young Afghan journalist’s murder was a “barbaric, unjust killing, even in a time of war.” Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Sultan Ahmad Baheen told AFP the government will not make further deals with the Taliban, although it was “worried for the French nationals”.
“The government is determined to not make any further deals with the terrorists. No more deals, with no one, for no one,” Baheen said.
Another Afghan official said the government was in a tight corner over the French hostages, following widespread domestic criticism of its failure to save a fellow Afghan while helping free the Italian journalist.
“The government is obviously in a very difficult position — if the French ask for the same thing the Italians did, what would the government say?” the official said, again asking not to be named.
The fundamentalist Taliban movement were ousted by US-led forces in late 2001 and have since led a increasingly bloody insurgency targeting the Afghan government, international troops and aid workers.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2006