Afghan Kidnappings Increasingly Common

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As security deteriorates in Afghanistan, kidnappings of Afghans are increasingly common. Even the capital, Kabul, is no longer safe.

The growing wave of Afghan kidnappings isn't about politics. It's about ransom.

There's no shortage of policemen in Kabul. At a busy intersection recently, a handful of policemen direct traffic, while even more stand in the street and talk to each other by radio as they stop cars to peer inside.

But the flurry of police activity doesn't make Kabul residents feel safe. Just a short drive away in the Qali-a-Fatullah district, hardly anyone ventures out anymore.

Many say it's not a fear of suicide bombers that keeps them indoors. Far greater is their worry of being kidnapped by criminals for ransom.

"The biggest side effect of the deteriorating security situation is kidnapping. And Afghans are most at risk," says Mohammed Farid Hamidi, a member of the independent human rights commission in Qali-a-Fatullah district.

The Afghan attorney general's office says that in the past 10 months, they have investigated 130 Afghan kidnappings for ransom — 23 of them in Kabul. Those are believed to be a fraction of the actual number.

Many victims and their families accuse the government of complicity. Some claim Afghan police officers are trying to boost their meager salaries by working with kidnappers, a charge that police officials vehemently deny.

The police, in turn, blame such kidnappings on family members or private security firms looking to make a quick buck.

Whatever the case, kidnappings for ransom are rarely investigated.

There was no follow-up last month, for example, when an Afghan doctor was snatched off the street in Qali-a-Fatullah in broad daylight. He was one of a dozen people kidnapped in his neighborhood alone.

Witnesses say the culprits were dressed in military uniforms. They shot Dr. Fouad Sultani in the leg when he resisted. They then stuffed the 35-year-old victim into a white Corolla and drove off.

All this while armed police officers stood at checkpoints 150 feet away.

At their home nearby, Sultani's father recalls how his kidnapped son called him on his cell phone. "Dad," he said, "I'm bleeding badly and my leg is paralyzed. Do something!"

The father, Haji Hayder Sultani, says he tried to calm his son. He told him to tell the kidnappers he'd pay whatever they want. But the line went dead.

The next day, the police called to say they had found his son's body in the street. An autopsy showed he bled to death. Police blamed relatives for the abduction, something Sultani calls ridiculous. He says his son was well known as a doctor and businessman, making him a prime target for ransom.

Nor was there any investigation into the case of another Kabul doctor who was shot and kidnapped as he drove home one night last October.

The victim, Dr. Mohammed Hashem Wahaaj, says police refused to get involved because they suspected relatives had abducted him.

Wahaaj says his four captors were not relatives, but strangers dressed in suits. After running him off the road, they shot him in the arm to subdue him. They explained to Wahaaj that they were kidnapping him for ransom money, he says.

Wahaaj was blindfolded and chained to the wall of a windowless basement for 19 days. He says his captors beat him and demanded his brothers pay a million-dollar ransom.

Eventually, his brothers cut a deal with the kidnappers, although Wahaaj says they won't tell him for how much. But the going rate is said to be several hundred thousand dollars.

"They were well trained, well organized. And without support of government, they cannot do all these things. Because all of them, they have weapons, and their cars, their people, they are moving very freely. They cannot do by their own selves," Wahaaj says.

He says he has since moved his wife and children to Pakistan — and that he never goes anywhere alone anymore. He has also applied for a license to carry a gun.

So has Haji Hayder Sultani, the father of the doctor slain across town.

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