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Indian hostage in Herat, Afghanistan located; locals engaged to mediate with kidnappers

Wednesday, 4 June 2014 - 11:43pm IST | Agency: dna

The External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Wednesday held several meetings with key officials on the abduction of an Indian aid worker in Afghanistan, to avoid the recurrence of 2000 Kandahar hostage crises that has returned to haunt India. Sources here said the ministry was in touch with their Afghan counterparts, who have informed them the arrest of a man involved in the abduction and have also located the 47 year old hostage Father Alexis Prem Kumar Antonysamy, in the Gulran district of Herat province.

The Indian consul general in Herat has been in touch with local authorities. Sources said that Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj has been personally monitoring the case and that the kidnappers have made no demands yet. Hailing from Devakottai in Sivaganga district of Tamil Nadu, Premkumar was in Afghanistan since 2011.

Father Kumar, country director of Jesuit Refugee Service, was kidnapped on Monday by unidentified armed men when he was on a visit to a Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS)-supported school for Afghan refugee children from Iran and Pakistan. The incident came days after a deadly attack on the Indian Mission in the same city. The JRS has suspended its operations. Government sources here say, no ransom call has been received so far. Quoting Afghan police, they said that “six gunmen” had abducted Premkumar and may have taken him to Gulran district.

Though nobody was coming here on record and in absence of any hostage policy, it has been left to Afghan authorities to work with “district elders” to mediate the release before it becomes a major sore for the Narendra Modi government. The mediation efforts are being supervised by the Indian Consulate. Experts here agree that India's inability to deal firmly with hostage crisis and absence of any policy is a big nightmare. Over the past several decades India has had to face many difficult hostage situations: from hijacking of passenger airliners to a forest brigand kidnapping a movie superstar in Karnataka.

The JRS international director Farther Stan Fernandes said his organisation was also in touch with relevant authorities to ensure his safe and speedy return. “We have suspended our operations in Afghanistan,” he said. The JRS is an international Catholic organisation which works for refugees and displaced people.

Meanwhile, Afghan security sources conducting investigations into the May 26 attack on the Indian consulate in Herat have told their Indian counterparts that the attack was planned to coincide with the oath ceremony of the Narendra Modi government. They believe having laid hands on some material pointing towards the involvement of Pakistan based groups Laskhar-e-Toiba in the attack.  They say, evidence shows that the group had  come fully prepared for a long haul and could have been advised to take Indian staff as hostage. Security sources said each of the four attackers carried AK 47 rifles and six magazines each. Two of them also carried under barrel grenade launchers or UGBLs and rocket propelled grenades or RPGs.  Each also carried fruits, nearly half a kg of dry fruits and water bottles.

Indian security officials who have visited Herat and reviewed the deployment of two dozen Indo Tibetan Border Police or ITBP personnel who guard the office-cum-residential compound, said the first attacker tried to scale the wall using an extendable 4 feet portable ladder, but an alert sentry killed him within a minute.  The attackers were neutralised after almost eight hours of intense gunbattle. Investigators suspect one of them got away in the chaos; only three bodies were recovered.

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