KABUL, Afghanistan, (AP) – Taliban militants on Saturday released the last of approximately 150 Afghan laborers they had abducted for almost a week after suspecting the workers of being Afghan soldiers, officials said.
Militants stopped three buses of workers constructing an Afghan army base in the western city of Farah and took the laborers hostage on Sept. 21. Government officials and tribal elders pleaded with the militants to release the men, saying they had abducted simple laborers and not soldiers.
“The Taliban had received a report that these people were going to join with Afghan army, that they are receiving training in this camp that they are building,” said Abdul Qadir Daqeq, a provincial council member from Farah.
Tribal elders contacted the Taliban militants to plead the workers’ case, Daqeq said. Then the Taliban took several days to question the laborers and determine whether they were soldiers, he said.
The militants released 118 of the workers on Friday, said Khalilullah Rahmani, Farah’s provincial police chief. About 30 others were released on Saturday, he said. Three abductees had been released earlier in the week because of illness.
One of the reasons the laborers’ release was staggered is because the militants split up the laborers into about six groups held by six different militant factions, Daqeq said.
He said that no ransom was paid and that the Taliban didn’t demand the release of militants in Afghan prisons, as they have done in other kidnapping cases.
A Taliban spokesman has denied that Taliban insurgents kidnapped the laborers. He couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Saturday.
Kidnappings in Afghanistan are an increasingly common tactic used by militants and common criminals to instill terror, to make political demands and to blackmail families or governments for ransom.
The Afghan government has released Taliban prisoners in exchange for a kidnapped Italian journalist, and other countries and families are known to have made large ransom payments to win the release of abductees.
In July 2007, Taliban fighters kidnapped 23 South Koreans, killing two and releasing the rest. The kidnapping of 150 people is the first time militants have attempted to abduct and hold such a large group.