Afghanistan: Two Turkish citizens kidnapped 50 days ago in northern Afghanistan were freed by local security forces in a rescue operation late on Tuesday, Afghan officials said.

Faqir Mohammad Jawzjani, deputy governor of the northern Jawzjan province, blamed the Taliban for the June kidnapping and said the group had demanded 25 million Afghanis ($530,000) for each, but Afghan officials did not pay.

"Finally we discovered the place and rescued them in an operation involving Afghan security forces," he said.

Dry well

The Turks' captors kept the pair - who were working for a private firm in Afghanistan and whom Turkish media identified as Sami Bagdas and Mumin Ozel - at the bottom of a 40m dry well, Jawzjani said.

"The Taliban kept them with only one set of clothes for 50 days. Their feet and hands were tightly tied with chains. They were getting very little food each day," Jawzjani said.
They were to be handed over to Turkish officials in the provincial capital Jawzjan later on Wednesday, he said.

The Taliban denied involvement.

"We are not involved in this," Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said by telephone from an undisclosed location.

Originally, the men were kidnapped along with another Turkish man and two Afghan colleagues. The third Turk was freed owing to his poor health, and families of the Afghans paid ransoms of $17,000 each for their freedom, Jawzani said.

Financial motives

Kidnapping is a lucrative business in impoverished Afghanistan and scores of locals and foreigners have been abducted by criminals with financial motives, or by Taliban-linked insurgents, in recent years.

The kidnapping risk reduces relief work in Afghanistan, where Nato-led forces have been fighting Taliban insurgents in a costly war that has dragged on for 10 years.

Kidnappers on average grab one or two foreign citizens a month with the expectation of high ransoms, and between five and 10 Afghans are taken hostage each week with smaller financial demands for their freedom expected by their abductors.

Violent deaths

Many of the foreign kidnapping cases end in violent deaths, either by execution or during botched rescue missions. Two French TV journalists held by the Taliban in Afghanistan were freed in June, ending an 18-month ordeal.

Separately, two Afghans were freed by rescue missions on Tuesday, the Ministry of the Interior said in a statement.

One was a tribal elder taken hostage almost a month ago in the northern Kunduz province and the other, Abdullah Omarzai, a businessman kidnapped from Kabul six days ago.

Omarzai was kept in a 30m well in the capital while his captors demanded a $1 million ransom. Five suspected kidnappers have been detained in Kabul and the Kunduz province, the statement added.