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Militants claim kidnapping 2 officials

April 19, 2010 17:57 IST

A hitherto unheard of militant group called the Asian Tigers on Monday issued a video of two top former ISI officials and a journalist whom it claimed to have kidnapped in Pakistan's volatile tribal belt.

The video, which was aired by Geo News channel, featured former Inter-Services Intelligence official Khalid Khwaja, Col (retired) Imam alias Sultan Amir Tarar and Asad Qureshi, a British journalist of Pakistani-origin.

The three men had gone missing after travelling to North Waziristan on March 25 to interview Taliban leaders.

In the video, Col Imam and Khwaja spoke about their service in the military and the ISI.

They claimed they had been told to go to the tribal belt by former Army chief Gen Mirza Aslam Beg, former ISI chief Lt Gen Hamid Gul and one Col Sajjad of the ISI.

The video showed Asad Qureshi as saying: "I'm an England citizen (sic). Please have them set me free. I am being detained by Asian Tigers."

The three men were filmed sitting in front of a white piece of cloth. An Urdu newspaper was placed on their chest.

Geo News said an unnamed spokesman for the Asian Tigers had claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of the trio.

The three men had travelled from Kohat district in northwest Pakistan to Mirali, one of the main towns of North Waziristan, on March 25. They went missing the next day.

The three men, who were working on a documentary, were reportedly invited to the tribal areas by Punjabi Taliban militants.

Geo News quoted its sources as saying that the abductors planned to seek money from the British government for the release of Qureshi.

The kidnappers also want to exchange the two former ISI officials for arrested militants, the sources were quoted as saying.

In Lahore, Khwaja's wife Shamama told PTI that she had information that a militant named Usman Punjabi was behind the kidnapping.

She too said the abductors wanted to obtain a "sizeable ransom" for Qureshi and to exchange the former ISI officials for arrested militants like Afghan Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

Shamama claimed a splinter militant group, which was involved in other kidnappings for ransom, was behind the abduction of the three men.

She also said the kidnappers had called her home and spoken to her son Osama. She said it appeared that the three kidnapped men had been pressured to appear in the video released today.

She added that she was very worried about her husband. Khalid Khwaja is active in human rights circles and has filed several petitions on behalf of people arrested by Pakistani authorities for terror links.

He has also been pursuing the case of "missing persons" or those detained by security agencies without charges.

Col Imam, an outspoken Taliban supporter, is a veteran Pakistan Army and ISI officer who was trained as a commando in the US.

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