Taliban release Swiss hostages: army

The Taliban have released two Swiss tourists kidnapped at gunpoint more than eight months ago while travelling through Pakistan's dangerous south-west, the army said on Thursday.

Olivier David Och, 31, and Daniela Widmer, 28, were abducted at gunpoint in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Baluchistan on July 1st.

Their blue Volkswagen van was found abandoned in Loralai district, around 170 kilometres east of the Baluchistan capital Quetta.

“They are safe and sound. We shifted them to Peshawar,” spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told AFP, referring to the north-western city that abuts Pakistan’s lawless tribal belt where they had been held captive.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed the abduction in July, demanding that they be exchanged for Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuro-scientist sentenced in 2010 in New York for the attempted murder of US government agents in Afghanistan.

Pakistani officials speaking to AFP could not say whether the couple were released in exchange for a ransom or any acceptance of demands from the Pakistani Taliban, which is linked to Al-Qaeda.

The Swiss embassy refused to comment when contacted by AFP.

In October, a video emerged of the couple — apparently in relatively good health — flanked by four masked gunmen pointing rifles at their heads.

Pakistani officials said the Taliban released the couple in Spilga village in North Waziristan, the most notorious Taliban and Al-Qaeda stronghold in Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal belt that borders Afghanistan.

“They were found near a checkpost on the main road early in the morning,” one Pakistani security official told AFP on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

Another intelligence official said the Swiss were then flown by helicopter to Peshawar.

Wali-ur Rehman, deputy head of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, had claimed the kidnapping, telling AFP in July that they were in “a very safe place” and that the were “completely in good health”.

Siddiqui, dubbed “Lady Qaeda” by US tabloids, was jailed for 86 years in 2010 after being found guilty of grabbing a rifle at an Afghan police station where she was being interrogated and opening fire on servicemen and FBI agents.

According to visas stamped in their passports, the Swiss couple arrived in Pakistan from India on June 28th.

The pair entered Baluchistan from Punjab province and may have been heading for Quetta, possibly en route to Iran, officials in Islamabad have said.

Baluchistan, which borders Iran and Afghanistan, attracts few tourists due to separatist violence and Taliban activity.

Switzerland has advised against non-essential travel to Pakistan since 2008, citing risks including the threat of kidnapping.

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Extremists abduct Swiss woman in north Mali

Gunmen abducted a Swiss woman overnight Thursday to Friday in Timbuktu in northern Mali, where she had lived for several years and was previously held by extremists, official sources say.

Extremists abduct Swiss woman in north Mali
French and Mali soldiers patrol outside mosque in Timbuktu earlier last year. Photo: Philippe Desmayes/AFP

“Beatrice, a Swiss citizen, was kidnapped in her home in Timbuktu by gunmen,” a Timbuktu government official told AFP.
A Malian security source said armed men had gone to her home on Thursday night, “knocked on the door, she opened, and they left with her.”
Beatrice Stockly was kidnapped a first time in April 2012 by Islamist fighters but released thanks to mediation efforts by Burkina Faso authorities.
Two foreign hostages seized the previous year in 2011 by members of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a South African and a Swede, are still in captivity.
Jihadist fighters including AQIM members seized control of Mali's vast remote north in March-April 2012 but were chased out the following year by a French-led military intervention.
A regional French counterterrorism force is still conducting operations in the area.
Entire swathes of the north remain beyond the reach of both the Malian army and foreign troops, however.