Pakistan hunts French tourist’s kidnappers


ISLAMABAD — Pakistani police hunted Sunday for a French tourist kidnapped in the country’s restive southwest but an officer said they still did not know who was behind the abduction.

Gunmen on Saturday snatched the 41-year-old man from a group of French nationals travelling in Baluchistan province — on the border with both Afghanistan and Iran.

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He 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 Afghan frontier.

“We have sent different teams to locate the kidnappers and recover the French tourist,” local police officer Meerullah, who goes by one name, told AFP from the town of Dal Bandin, near the site of the abduction.

“We don’t know who the kidnappers are, what their motive is. We have not yet received any demand. We have really no idea about the kidnappers.”

Meerullah said police, the paramilitary Frontier Corps and an anti-terrorism unit had been deployed to look for the Frenchman.

“We are quite hopeful the abductors will be traced and the hostage will be released,” he added.

The group of French tourists were travelling in two vehicles, one containing a woman, a man and children aged two and five. Two men travelled in the other vehicle.

Six kidnappers armed with Kalashnikovs stopped the vehicle containing the two French men near the town of Landi, police said, seizing the 41-year-old but leaving the other man because he was handicapped.

Police in the area had earlier said the group was comprised of two women, two men and two children.

Meerullah said the tourists were heading for Iran. They were in an area which foreign embassies say is not safe for travel.

The 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 government.

Hundreds of people have died in the oil and gas-rich province 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.

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.