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Tuesday, November 23, 2004

[Irish Aires] - Irish Hostage Released

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Family 'Overjoyed' At Afghan Hostage's Release
23/11/2004 - 09:22:34
The family of a Northern Irish UN worker who was held captive in
Afghanistan for nearly four weeks said today they were "overjoyed"
at the news of her release.
Annetta Flanigan was freed overnight along with two colleagues who
were also kidnapped and was said to be in good health after
undergoing medical checks, UN officials said.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he was "delighted" and
"relieved" that the three UN workers had been released as they had
"no quarrel with any Afghan".
Ms Flanigan, of Richhill, Co Armagh, has now been reunited with her
husband, Jose, after her ordeal.
She was seized at gunpoint with fellow workers, Philippines
diplomat Angelito Nayan and Kosovan Shqipe Hebibi, in the capital
Kabul on October 28 and had been shown pleading in tears for her
freedom in a video.
Her family expressed their "sincere gratitude" to everyone who
helped to secure her release and said it was an "incredible relief"
to know she was safe and well.
A statement from them read: "I wish to state that we are all
absolutely overjoyed at the confirmed news that Annetta and her two
colleagues have been released.
"After all the terrible anxiety of the last 27 days it is an
incredible relief to know that Annetta is safe and well and now
reunited with her husband, Jose.
"We wish to express our sincere gratitude to all those who have
worked so hard to secure Annetta's release."
They added they were looking forward to seeing the couple when they
return home to Northern Ireland in the near future.
Reverend David Coe, their minister and rector of St Matthew's
Parish Church in Richhill, had visited Ms Flanigan's mother Esther,
who lives in the village with her son Niall, her sister Elaine and
brother Andrew, every day since her daughter was taken captive.
He said: "It's a huge relief for her. The entire village has been
praying for her release and thank God it's happened. It will be a
happy Christmas for the family after all."
Mr Straw said that the case was particularly appalling because the
three workers had been helping the people of Afghanistan.
"Kidnapping, whoever the victims, is an appalling crime. In this
case, the three victims had for several months been working, as
part of the UN presence in Afghanistan, to ensure the success of
the country's elections.
"They had no quarrel with any Afghan, only a desire to help the
country's people build democracy. The determination of those
committed to rebuilding Afghanistan remains as strong as ever".
Mr Straw has been in contact with Ms Flanigan's family throughout
their ordeal.
He added at an international conference on Iraq in the Egyptian
resort of Sharm El Sheikh: "I know that this will be a tremendous
relief to the family who have been to hell and back. Let us thank
God they have been released."
It is believed the trio were abandoned at a location in Kabul at
around 6am today.
The militant group Jaish-al Muslimeen, or Army of Muslims, had
claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and threatened to kill
the trio unless their demands for UN and British troops to withdraw
from Afghanistan and for Muslim prisoners to be freed from US jails
were met.
The ordeal ended after US and Afghan forces raided two houses in
Kabul and detained 10 people in connection with the abductions.
Most of the detainees were released after being questioned, an
Afghan intelligence official said, but it was not clear if the
arrest of a doctor who worked at a UN clinic in the city had
hastened the hostages' release.
Afghan officials believe a criminal gang carried out the
abductions, and have said that negotiations centred on a ransom
But Silvestre Afable, a spokesman for Philippines President Gloria
Macapagal Arroyo, said: "There has been no payment of ransom."
Syed Khalid, a spokesman for Jaish-al Muslimeen, said today that it
had freed the hostages overnight against an "assurance that the
release of our 24 people would begin today".
His claims could not be verified. Mr Afable insisted there was no
prisoner-for-hostage exchange.
Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said discussions had been
held with the kidnappers, whom he declined to identify, but
insisted no deal was done and that the releases were unconditional.
"There is no deal with the kidnappers. They will be brought to
justice," he told a press conference.
It was the first abduction of foreigners in the Afghan capital
since the Taliban fell three years ago.
US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad hailed the releases as a "major
defeat to terrorists who wanted to export an Iraq-style of hostage-
taking in Afghanistan".
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