Swiss ex-hostages speak of Taliban kidnap ordeal

Two Swiss former hostages who escaped their Taliban captors in March after eight months in a Pakistani tribal zone told a newspaper on Sunday of their ordeal, giving a rare glimpse into the torn region.

Swiss ex-hostages speak of Taliban kidnap ordeal

As well as providing the first details of their escape, the couple painted a depressing picture of life in captivity, where their guards spent hours watching suicide-attack videos and fantasized about getting blown up by US drones.

Olivier David Och, 32, and Daniela Widmer, 29, were abducted on July 1st while on holiday in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Baluchistan. They were returning by road from a trip to India, despite Swiss government warnings about the risk of kidnapping, when they were seized by gunmen.

They said they spent months in a “sort of prison” near the market of Miranshah, in North Waziristan.

“For months, we never saw a woman or child, just our four guards,” Widmer told Swiss daily newspaper Le Matin. “They seemed really sick, like they were dead inside, and wore explosive belts.”

Och, a police officer from Bern, said the army staged a full-on attack the night of November 7th, pummelling Taliban positions with artillery fire and strafing nearby houses from helicopters.

Och and Widmer said their captors began panicking and eventually made the prisoners wear burqas, then took them to a farm belonging to a Taliban member known as Lala.

They stayed on Lala’s farm for the rest of their captivity.

“You could hear the drones all the time,” Widmer said. “By day, they’d fly high and sounded like lawnmowers. At night, they flew lower and you could hear them rumble.”

Conditions on the farm were better and the guards were not as vigilant. The couple stayed with Lala’s family, including his wife, step-daughter and six children.

“We ate the same as the family — unleavened bread, five or six potatoes with oil and salt,” said Och, who lost 22 kilograms in captivity.

Every two weeks, they were visited by Lala’s boss, who “figured high on the US list of people to kill. He slept in our room near Lala — the drones could have picked him off at any time,” Och said.

This senior Taliban member told them of the state of negotiations and that the Taliban were demanding a ransom of $50 million.

“We knew no one would pay that much,” Och told the newspaper.

So they decided to try to escape. They stole two grenades and ran into the night.

“Better to die fighting,” Och said. “If they’d followed us we’d have used them.”

They wandered lost for hours before finding a Pakistani military checkpoint. They said their ordeal did not end then and they were subjected to “painful episodes” they did not discuss.

At the time of their escape, the events leading up to their sudden freedom were somewhat mysterious, with some observers questioning whether the Swiss government had paid a ransom, a claim Switzerland denied.

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Swiss refuse graft probe of Pakistan’s leader

Swiss prosecutors announced Friday that they had refused to reopen a probe into alleged corruption in the 1990s by current Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and his late wife Benazir Bhutto.

Swiss refuse graft probe of Pakistan's leader
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari. Photo: AFP

Prosecutors in Geneva said that the decision was taken on February 4 this year, and that they had only opted to make it public as a result of street protests in Pakistan.

They declined to comment in detail, but the Swiss news portal published photographs of anti-Zardari protestors burning Switzerland's flag at a rally in Pakistan.

Zardari and Bhutto were alleged to have siphoned $12 million in state cash in the 1990s, when he was a government minister and she was premier.

Bhutto lost office in 1996, and a year later Pakistan made a formal request for Swiss legal help in a probe of the couple and Bhutto's mother Nusrat Bhutto.

Bhutto went into self-imposed exile in the United Arab Emirates in 1997, returning in 2007, only to be assassinated in a bomb attack on an election rally the same year.

Weeks before Bhutto was killed, Pakistan had withdrawn its request for help from the Swiss, and Geneva investigators formally closed their side of the probe in 2008.

Zardari, meanwhile, was arrested in Pakistan on graft charges after his wife's government fell, before being freed in 2004, going into exile in the United Arab Emirates, then returning after Bhutto's death.

He was elected president in 2008.

In November 2012, however, Pakistan's government renewed its request for Swiss legal assistance after being ordered to do so by its own supreme court.

Geneva prosecutors underlined Friday that no new evidence had emerged since the case was dropped in 2008, meaning they could not reopen the investigation.

In addition, the fact that the alleged offences took place more than 15 years ago meant that the statute of limitations had expired, they said.

They also complained about mixed messages from Pakistan.

Just a month after filing the renewed request, Pakistan sent them a letter stating that the call for a revived probe was linked to domestic politics and that there was no need to heed it.

That amounted to abuse of the legal system, prosecutors said.