Australian aid worker kidnapped in Afghanistan

Abduction in Jalalabad, previously considered relatively safe, follows surge in crime in eastern city.

Afghan policemen search a vehicle in the city of Jalalabad after an Australian aid worker was reported to have been kidnapped there by armed men on April 29, 2016. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP
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Sydney // An Australian woman working for a charity in Afghanistan has been kidnapped in the eastern city of Jalalabad.

Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop said Canberra was working to secure the release of Katherine Jane Wilson, but insisted it does not pay ransoms for hostages.

Ms Wilson, who also uses the first name Kerry, was grabbed in Jalalabad, close to the border with Pakistan, on Thursday, a government official in the area said.

“She visited the city of Jalalabad for a women’s embroidery project,” said Ataullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar province, of which Jalalabad is the capital.

“And unknown masked gunmen abducted her from Police District 2 of Jalalabad city.”

He added that the kidnappers, disguised as police, took her at 4am from a home in which she was staying.

Nangarhar police chief Zrawer Zahed confirmed the abduction by “unidentified gunmen” not long after she arrived on Wednesday evening.

Long considered relatively safe, Jalalabad has seen an increase in kidnappings, extortion and intimidation in recent months. Residents have blamed the crime wave on powerful local clans with links to the political establishment.

Ms Bishop said she had been in contact with Ms Wilson’s family.

“The details of the reports are still being confirmed but the Afghan authorities certainly believe she has been kidnapped,” she said.

“Our priority is to ensure that she is well, that she’s being treated well, and so that’s what we’re focusing our efforts upon, working with the local authorities.”

Asked if Canberra would pay a ransom if one was demanded, she replied: “The Australian government does not, as a matter of policy, pay ransom for kidnappers.”

Ms Wilson’s 91-year-old father Brian Wilson said his daughter had worked in the region with charities related to women’s rights and water security for more than 20 years, and made an emotional plea for her release.

“I feel extremely worried indeed,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“But I presume she’s a hostage, and that they’ll do their best to keep her alive and not harm her, simply because they want to have something or other in return and it’s not very good having a dead hostage.”

* Agence France-Presse