Hotelier 'helped free Annetta'

26/11/2004 - 08:50:58

A British hotelier said he had been detained over the kidnapping of three UN election workers - including Armagh woman Annetta Flanigan - in Afghanistan and claimed to have helped negotiate their release from Taliban-linked militants.

Peter Jouvenal, a former journalist who owns a guesthouse in Kabul, said Afghan authorities questioned him about the abduction of the three foreigners, who were freed on Tuesday in mysterious circumstances after being held for 27 days.

Contacted by telephone yesterday, Jouvenal said police were refusing to release him from a house in Kabul where he was quizzed on how he tried to free the trio on behalf of a wealthy European businessman.

“I was involved in the negotiated release of the three UN officials,” Jouvenal said from what he described as an unmarked residence controlled by the Afghan Interior Ministry. “They’re not letting me leave.”

Afghan government officials could not be reached for comment.

Armed men seized Annetta Flanigan, Shqipe Hebibi from Kosovo and Philippine diplomat Angelito Nayan on a Kabul street on October 28.

Their abduction revived fears that Afghan militants are adopting the tactics of their counterparts in Iraq, where dozens of foreigners have been kidnapped.

Afghan officials say a criminal group seized the three, perhaps at the behest of a Taliban splinter group called Jaish-al Muslimeen. The officials say they negotiated with the kidnappers. But they have declined to give details, saying it could harm their efforts to apprehend the kidnappers.

Jaish-al Muslimeen, whose name means Army of Muslims, claim Afghan authorities agreed to free 24 jailed comrades in return for the hostages’ freedom.

But Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali insisted on Tuesday that no prisoners were released and no ransom paid to secure the freedom of the three, who appeared Wednesday with Afghan President Hamid Karzai looking drawn but happy.

Neither authorities nor the ex-hostages have given details of who was responsible for the incident. But Jouvenal said he helped persuade Jaish-al Muslimeen to liberate them.

He said he had travelled to the Pakistani city of Peshawar and contacted the group’s leader, Akbar Agha, through “old friends from the jihad” – veterans of Afghanistan’s war against Soviet occupation in the 1980s.

He said he wasn’t asked to deliver any ransom and did not know if any was paid.

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