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The Taliban has freed four more South Korean hostages, according to witnesses, as part of a deal with Seoul, amid concern by Afghan authorities that South Korea may have paid a ransom for the release.


The most recent group to be freed were driven to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Wednesday, witnesses said.



The Taliban has now freed 12 of the 19 South Koreans it has been holding hostage for more than six weeks.


Greg Muller, an ICRC representative, confirmed that 12 hostages had been released and taken to the Red Crescent Society offices in Ghazni, 140km south of Kabul.



“They seem, after six weeks in detention, very much relieved which is a natural reaction after an extremely stressful experience,” Muller said.

The South Korean embassy in Kabul said the freed hostages were likely to be flown to the US military base at Bagram, north of Kabul, before leaving Afghanistan “as soon as possible”.


Earlier the Taliban released eight hostages, saying that more would be released soon.

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The Taliban began freeing the South Koreans, a group of Christian volunteers who had travelled to Afghanistan to undertake aid work, as part of an agreement reached a day earlier in face-to-face talks with a delegation from South Korea.

Under the terms of the deal, South Korea agreed to end missionary activities by Christian groups in Afghanistan.

But there has been speculation that the South Koreans bought the release of the hostages, though both the Taliban and the South Korean government denied there was any secret deal.

Alan Fisher, reporting for Al Jazeera from Kabul, said: “We’ve certainly heard rumours around Kabul – the figure of around 20 million pounds has been bandied around.


“I spoke to one senior Afghan authority who, while not confirming the figure, did say that money was paid – that the South Koreans had paid cash to the Taliban.”


But Qari Mohammad Bashir, a Taliban commander, denied that a ransom had been paid.

“I strongly deny this. It’s not true that money was involved,” he said.


Al Jazeera’s Tony Birtley, reporting from South Korea, said: “Most people here [in Seoul] think that South Korea has probably paid a ransom, but that will be debated later when the hostages have returned home safely.”

Hostages’ return


Relatives of the hostages, who erupted in cheers on hearing news of the agreement, are now anxiously awaiting the hostages’ return.


“It is like a dead child is coming back to life,” Lee Hyoen-Ja, a relative of one of the kidnapped Christian aid workers, told JoongAng Daily on Wedneday.

Seo Jeung-Bae, whose son and daughter were among the hostages, said: “I want to see them and hug them hard now.


“I had not doubted for one moment that the Taliban would return my children some day, as the Taliban are also human beings and have their own families.”


At Seoul’s Saemmul Church, which sent the volunteers to Afghanistan, officials said the focus now would be on looking after the released hostages and their families.


“Our work for now will be to make sure the freed hostages return safely and have the time to recover, and to make sure the family members of the two who were sacrificed are comforted,” Bang Yong-kyun, pastor, said.


The group of 23 volunteers from the church were seized on July 19 from a bus as they travelled through Ghazni province.



The Taliban killed two male hostages early on in the crisis, but released two women as a gesture of goodwill during a first round of negotiations.


As news of the release spread, other South Korean churches said the kidnapping crisis had led them to rethink evangelical missions to Afghanistan.


Relatives reacted with joy after getting news
that an agreement had been reached [AFP]

The National Council of Churches in Korea, one of the largest groups representing the country’s Protestants, said in a statement it would abide by the government’s pledge to end missionary work in Afghanistan.


“Through this incident, we will look back on the Korean churches’ overseas volunteer and missionary work, and make this an opportunity to bring about more effective and safer volunteer and missionary work,” it said.


Another Seoul-based Christian aid group, The Frontiers, said all its short-term volunteers in Afghanistan had pulled out of the country and two long-term volunteers are about to return.

Following Tuesday’s talks with South Korean officials, the Taliban said they would release the 19 hostages provided Seoul pulls out its troops and stops Korean missionary work in Afghanistan by the end of this year.


Helmsley’s Dog Gets $12 Million in Will
Wednesday August 29, 12:45 pm ET

Helmsley Dog Gets $12 Million, but Real Estate Billionaire Leaves Nothing to 2 Grandchildren

NEW YORK (AP) — Leona Helmsley’s dog will continue to live an opulent life, and then be buried alongside her in a mausoleum. But two of Helmsley’s grandchildren got nothing from the late luxury hotelier and real estate billionaire’s estate.

Helmsley left her beloved white Maltese, named Trouble, a $12 million trust fund, according to her will, which was made public Tuesday in surrogate court.

She also left millions for her brother, Alvin Rosenthal, who was named to care for Trouble in her absence, as well as two of four grandchildren from her late son Jay Panzirer — so long as they visit their father’s grave site once each calendar year.

Otherwise, she wrote, neither will get a penny of the $5 million she left for each.

Helmsley left nothing to two of Jay Panzirer’s other children — Craig and Meegan Panzirer — for “reasons that are known to them,” she wrote.

But no one made out better than Trouble, who once appeared in ads for the Helmsley Hotels, and lived up to her name by biting a housekeeper.

“I direct that when my dog, Trouble, dies, her remains shall be buried next to my remains in the Helmsley mausoleum,” Helmsley wrote in her will.

The mausoleum, she ordered, must be “washed or steam-cleaned at least once a year.” She left behind $3 million for the upkeep of her final resting place in Westchester County, where she is buried with her husband, Harry Helmsley.

She also left her chauffeur, Nicholas Celea, $100,000.

She ordered that cash from sales of the Helmsley’s residences and belongings, reported to be worth billions, be sold and that the money be given to the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.

Her longtime spokesman, Howard Rubenstein, had no comment.

Helmsley died earlier this month at her Connecticut home. She became known as a symbol of 1980s greed and earned the nickname “the Queen of Mean” after her 1988 indictment and subsequent conviction for tax evasion. One employee had quoted her as snarling, “Only the little people pay taxes.

Kabul: Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan will on Wednesday start releasing 19 South Korean Christian volunteers kidnapped nearly six weeks ago, a representative of
the group said.

“Our decision is today,” said Qari Mohammad Bashir who was also involved in the talks with a Korean team on the release of the hostages. “We are trying to start the work today.”


Dera Ismail Khan: Militants freed 18 soldiers and a government official yesterday after they were kidnapped near the Afghan border earlier this month, the army and militants said.

Army spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad said the hostages were released in South Waziristan, a stronghold of pro-Taliban militants in Pakistan’s lawless frontier region.

A militant leader, Rehmanullah Mehsud, said the captives were handed over to tribal elders in Kaniguram, a village in South Waziristan.

Escorted by elders, the 19 men arrived at an army base in Wana, the main town of South Waziristan, said Khaista Khan, a local government official.

Khan praised tribal elders and some lawmakers from the region who had helped secure the hostages’ release.

No comment

However, he declined to comment on whether the militants had placed any conditions on their release.

According to local media reports, the kidnappers had demanded the release of jailed comrades and a pullback of troops during negotiations mediated by tribal elders, clerics and lawmakers belonging to an Islamist political party.

However, Arshad said on Geo television news that the hostages were released unconditionally.

Militants seized 16 paramilitary soldiers after they left their base in a van on August 9. One was later decapitated and his body dumped in a soccer field in the town of Jandola.

The other freed captives were an army colonel, two soldiers and a security official who were seized last week near Laddha, another village in South Waziristan.


Dawn News TV on Monday aired excerpts of a video showing the kidnapped soldiers surrounded by masked militants with guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

The TV station said the video also showed the beheading of the soldier.

The kidnapping came amid fierce fighting between militants and security forces in several parts of Pakistan’s northwest, particularly in the neighbouring North Waziristan region.

President Pervez Musharraf has deployed extra troops to that region to address deteriorating security, winning praise from US officials who suggest that Al Qaida may be regrouping there.

Arshad said some 250 militants and 60 troops have died in a month of violence that has included a string of suicide attacks on security forces.


Islamabad: Authorities have arrested the alleged mastermind and four other suspects believed to be behind two recent suicide attacks in Pakistan’s capital that killed 31 people, an official said yesterday.

Interior Ministry spokes-man Javed Iqbal Cheema said investigators have also identified the two bombers – both Pakistani tribesmen – who blew themselves up in separate attacks in Islamabad last month.

“Fasiullah Khan was the mastermind, planner, and directing the suicide attacks in and around Islamabad,” Cheema said.

Khan spent six months at the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, where he produced 400 petrol bombs, Cheema said, citing investigators.

Hyderabad: Hyderabad police yesterday arrested a man suspected to be involved in the twin terror bombings.

Mohammad Abdullah, a native of Assam, was taken into custody after residents in Bowenpalli, Secunderabad, caught him under suspicious circumstances. The youth also had injuries on his head and hands.

Police are questioning him to ascertain whether he has any links with the worst-ever terror attacks in the history of Andhra Pradesh that took place on Saturday evening.

The death toll in the blasts mounted to 43 with one of the injured succumbing to his wounds at a private hospital. Srinivas Rao, a native of Visakhapatnam, was standing near Gokul Chat in Koti when the bomb went off.

Police have also begun questioning citizens of Bangladesh and Pakistan overstaying in the city. There are reportedly 20 such foreign nationals who were staying in the city though their visas had expired.

Police had earlier detained about 10 people suspected to have links with Pakistan’s Inter Service Intelligence or terror groups backed by it.

The needle of suspicion points towards Bangladesh-based Harkatul Jihad Islami (HUJI), which was also blamed for the May 18 blast at the historic Makkah Masjid that claimed nine lives.


Shahid alias Bilal, a HUJI operative and a Hyderabad resident, is suspected to be the mastermind of both the attacks as well as the suicide bombing at the office of police commissioner’s task force in Begumpet in 2005. One policeman besides the suicide bomber, believed to be a Bangladeshi, was killed in the attack.

Shahid is currently believed to be in Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, three more people have been arrested in connection with the fake currency racket that was busted hours before Saturday’s blast.

Four people were arrested and fake currency worth Rs30 million was seized from them.

The accused are suspected to be members of underworld don Dawood Ibrahim’s gang.

Police Commissioner Balwinder Singh said a possible link between the fake currency racket and the terror bombings was also being probed.



Kabul: More than 100 suspected insurgents were killed in a battle with US-led troops in southern Afghanistan, the US military said on Wednesday.

The battle erupted after a convoy of Afghan and US coalition forces came under attack in Shah Wali Kot district in Kandahar province, it said in a statement.

US-led close air support attacked insurgent positions in the battle, it added.

“Afghan National Security Forces, advised by coalition forces, engaged and eliminated more than 100 insurgent fighters in a battle that started this morning and is still continuing in northern Kandahar province,” the US military said.

There were no civilian casualties but one Afghan security force member was killed and three foreign troops and three Afghan soldiers were wounded, it added.


No official from the Taliban, who lead the insurgency against Western troops and the Afghan government, could be immediately reached for comment.

There was no independent verification of the reported deaths of the insurgents.

Taliban spokesman often accuse Western troops of exaggerating insurgent casualties, while Western forces accuse the Taliban of exaggerating the number of casualties on the US, NATO and Afghan government side.

If confirmed, the Taliban toll would be the highest for many weeks.



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