French tourist kidnapped in Pakistan

24th May 2009, Comments 0 comments

Gunmen kidnapped a French tourist in Pakistan on Saturday, snatching him from a group of compatriots, who included women and children, in the southwestern province of Baluchistan, police said.

QUETTA - Gunmen kidnapped a French tourist in Pakistan on Saturday, snatching him from a group of compatriots, who included women and children, in the southwestern province of Baluchistan, police said.

The 41-year-old man was kidnapped in an area where ethnic Baluch separatist groups and Islamist fighters linked to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are known to operate, around 80 kilometres (50 miles) from the border with Afghanistan.

His abduction comes seven weeks after an American UN official was released following a two-month hostage ordeal in Baluchistan that was claimed by a shadowy Baluch rebel group trying to extract concessions from the central government.

Six kidnappers armed with Kalashnikovs stopped the two French men, two women and two children travelling by car near Landi, a small town around 200 kilometres east of the Iranian border, said police officer Merrullah.

The six tourists had left the provincial capital Quetta and were heading for Iran, said Karar Shah, another police officer also from Dal Bandin, where the tourists alerted the Pakistani authorities to the abduction.

"The incident happened near Landi and the French told us six men armed with Kalashnikovs stopped them and then one of them was taken away at gunpoint in a vehicle," Shah told AFP.

The kidnappers ordered the rest of the party to continue their journey.

Police said the other French man was not targeted because he was handicapped and that the children were aged two and five years old.

Contacted by AFP, the French embassy in Islamabad said it was unable to either confirm or deny the incident.

This latest Western abduction will raise further concerns about security in Pakistan, battling a wave of deadly extremist Islamist violence and where the government was criticised over the beheading of a Polish hostage in February.

The French tourists were in an area fraught with danger where foreign embassies advise nationals not to travel.

In recent months the party had travelled through Iran, India and Pakistan, said a senior police official on condition of anonymity.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the abduction.

The February 2 kidnapping of John Solecki, who headed the UN refugee agency in Quetta, was the most high-profile Western kidnapping in Pakistan since US journalist Daniel Pearl was beheaded by Al-Qaeda militants in 2002.

A shadowy organisation claiming to hold Solecki, the Baluchistan Liberation United Front (BLUF), had threatened to kill him unless the government freed more than 1,100 "prisoners" but he was eventually released unharmed on April 4.

Hundreds of people have died in the oil and gas-rich province of Baluchistan since late 2004, when rebels rose up to demand political autonomy and a greater share of profits from natural resources.

The province has also been hit by attacks blamed on Taliban militants.

Although kidnappings of foreigners in Baluchistan are rare, they have multiplied in northwest Pakistan, which also borders Afghanistan.

Polish geologist Piotr Stanczak, 42, was working for an oil and natural gas exploration company when he was kidnapped in the northwest last September. He was beheaded by the Taliban in February.

Pakistan is currently locked into an offensive against the Taliban in parts of the northwest which the government has called a fight to "eliminate" militants threatening the sovereignty and stability of the state.

More than 1,800 people have been killed in a wave of extremist bomb attacks across Pakistan in less than two years.

AFP / Maaz Khan / Expatica

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