By ISHTIAQ MAHSUD, Associated Press – July 29, 2011
SHAWAL, Pakistan (AP) — The Pakistani Taliban have custody of two kidnapped Swiss tourists and will free them if the U.S. releases a female Pakistani scientist convicted of trying to kill Americans, the No. 2 commander of the militant group told The Associated Press.
Gunmen abducted the man and woman as they traveled in the southwestern Baluchistan province earlier this month.
Authorities later said the two were taken to South Waziristan, a northwestern tribal region that borders Afghanistan and has been a hotbed of Pakistani Taliban activity for years.
Many locals and several foreigners have been kidnapped by militants in the border region over the past eight years. Some have been killed, while others have been released or their fate is unknown, often after ransoms have been paid.
The commander, Waliur Rehman, spoke to an AP reporter on Thursday in the Shawal area of South Waziristan. He said his group ordered the kidnapping in a bid to gain freedom for Aafia Siddiqui, a U.S.-educated neuroscience specialist and mother of three who is serving 86 years in an American jail for trying to shoot U.S. security officials in Afghanistan.
Rehman said that if Siddiqui is not freed, a Taliban court will decide their fate. He did not give any deadlines.
“We have not tortured this couple, and we have no such intention,” he added.
Officials at the Swiss and U.S. embassies in Islamabad declined to comment Friday on Rehman’s demand.
A senior Pakistani politician has hinted that his government may try to swap an American official accused of murder for a female scientist linked to al-Qaeda.
Raymond Davis, a contractor working for the US mission in Pakistan, has been held for more than a fortnight after admitting shooting dead two men, despite American demands that he is entitled to diplomatic immunity.
Babar Awan, Pakistan’s law minister, stopped just short of demanding a prisoner swap but linked Davis with the fate of Aafia Siddiqui, who is in prison in the US after being detained in Afghanistan.
She was sentenced to 86 years after being found guilty of trying to kill her American interrogators, provoking anger among Pakistanis who doubt that she was able to grab a rifle and wound US marines in a heavily fortified base. Washington has postponed an important Afghan summit, which was due to be attended by the Pakistani foreign minister next week, as a result of the impasse over Mr Davis.
When asked about how to resolve the case by journalists, Mr Awan linked the two prisoners, and said the US had “a repatriation call and we have a call”.
Religious leaders have drawn thousands of people on to the streets to demand the release of Dr Siddiqui as the price for freeing Davis.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan Taliban has demanded that the government execute the 36-year-old American.