German national kidnapped in Afghanistan

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A German convert to Islam was abducted in the west of Afghanistan, local police and the aid organisation he works for say.

17 December 2007

Kabul/Berlin (dpa) - Gunmen abducted a German convert to Islam in the western Afghanistan province of Herat, local police said Monday.

The man, identified by German media as Harald Kleber, a 42-year- old carpenter from the Bavarian town of Amberg, was seized on Sunday in circumstances that remain unclear.

He was the fifth German kidnapped in Afghanistan this year.

The provincial police chief in Herat, Mohham Juma Azim, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa Kleber was in a car with his Afghan wife and brother-in-law when the abductors stopped it and dragged him off.

Kleber, who worked for a German relief organization called Green Helmets in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2004, owned a carpenter's workshop in Herat City and occasionally helped with aid projects.

Germany's Foreign Ministry set up a crisis team to deal with the incident.

Azim said the German, who used the name Abdul Rahman after converting to Islam, was seized when he and his wife were on their way home from a visit to his in-laws.

He speculated that family motives might have been behind the kidnapping.

He said the woman had previously been married to an Afghan, but had left him to marry the German, possibly triggering resentment in the closely knit tribal community.

In a different version of events, Green Helmets' chairman Rupert Neudeck said the victim was seized by armed men along with his wife and child while they were on their way to the village of Totechi where the German was overseeing an aid project.

Prosecutors in Germany said they had issued an arrest warrant for the man earlier this year on suspicion of embezzling development aid funds, the newspaper Berliner Zeitung reported.

Green Helmets filed a complaint against him last year over the disappearance of 87,300 euros intended for a school he was helping to build in Afghanistan, the report said.

Before leaving Germany, Kleber was an active member of the local Greens environmental party in his home town and co-owner of an internet cafe that went broke under dubious circumstances.

His abduction comes more than two months after German engineer Rudolf Blechschmidt was released on October 10 after nearly three months in the hands of Afghan kidnappers.

Blechschmidt was seized in Maidan Wardak province on July 18 together with another German who later died in captivity.

Two other Germans seized in Afghanistan in June and August were released unharmed after brief periods of captivity.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the latest kidnapping and promised the matter would be resolved quickly.

"We will not tolerate criminal acts like this," he was quoted as saying in the mass-circulation German newspaper Bild.

The newspaper said Kleber was seized around 4:00 pm on Sunday by four armed men. His brother-in-law reported his disappearance to the German embassy on Monday.

On October 12, the German parliament approved a one-year extension of the mandate for 3,500 German troops stationed in northern Afghanistan.

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