Swiss couple kidnapped in Pakistan freed
This post has been updated. See the note below for details.
REPORTING FROM ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN -- Two Swiss tourists kidnapped eight months ago in Pakistan’s volatile Baluchistan province have been recovered safely, a senior Pakistani security official said Thursday.
Authorities in Baluchistan had previously identified the hostages as Daniela Widmer, 28, and David Och, 31, and said gunmen abducted the pair July 1. Members of the Pakistani Taliban, the country’s homegrown insurgency, had claimed responsibility. The insurgent group released a video in October in which the couple stated that their lives were at risk if their captors’ demands were not met.
Those demands included the release of Taliban members being held by Pakistani authorities, as well as the release by the U.S. of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman sentenced by an American court to 86 years in prison for trying to kill Americans in Afghanistan.
Details about how they came to be free were murky. Initial Pakistani media reports suggested that the couple had been freed by the Taliban. However, Agence France-Presse reported that the pair told Pakistani authorities that they had escaped.
[Updated, 4:28 a.m. March 15: The couple walked up to a security checkpoint in the tribal region of North Waziristan early Thursday, said security officials speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to provide the information. The military took them to the city of Peshawar.]
The couple were in good health, the official said, adding that he had no information on what precipitated their release. An official with the Swiss Embassy in Islamabad said Swiss authorities were still trying to confirm that the two were free.
The couple had been driving through Baluchistan and had stopped at a hotel in the southern town of Loralai when they were kidnapped by five gunmen, Baluchistan authorities said. Bordering Afghanistan and Iran, Baluchistan is one of Pakistan’s most dangerous areas. Baluch separatists continue to wage a low-level insurgency against Pakistani security forces, and the Taliban maintain a presence in the province.
-- Alex Rodriguez