Image: John Solecki
Rich Schultz  /  AP
John Solecki, who was kidnapped in Pakistan and held captive for several months, outside his parents' home in South Orange, N.J.
updated 4/8/2009 3:41:59 PM ET 2009-04-08T19:41:59

A New Jersey man kidnapped and held for several months while working for the United Nations in Pakistan is home and in good spirits, but says he is "a little bit tired" after his ordeal.

John Solecki, 49, briefly spoke to reporters at his parents' home in South Orange. Wearing jeans, loafers and a brown jacket, his hair was long, but he was otherwise clean shaven.

"It's great to be here. It's great to be home," he said. "My family and I would like to thank everyone responsible for my release. I'm a little bit tired. I'd like to just rest up with my family, so I'll leave it at that."

Asked about returning to his post in Pakistan, Solecki said he would continue his work, but wasn't sure what he would do next.

His brother William Solecki, a professor at Hunter College of the City University of New York, placed his hand around John's shoulder. John Solecki said, "I just want to take a walk in the park now," and left with his brother, crossing the street into a small park across from the family's house.

Solecki had been working for the United Nations refugee agency for several years before he was seized Feb. 2. His driver was killed in the ambush.

Threatened with beheading
At one point, Solecki's captors had threatened to behead him. He was found April 4 with his hands and feet bound, but otherwise unharmed, along a dirt road near the Afghan border of Pakistan.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement Wednesday that Solecki and his family want to thank all those who worked to secure his release, including the media.

"After two difficult and stressful months separated from his loved ones, John's first priority is obviously to spend time in private with his family," the statement said.

Hundreds of UNHCR staffers gathered at the group's Geneva headquarters earlier this week, according to a release by the agency, and cheered the news of their colleague's safe release.

News of Solecki's return was welcomed by New Jersey officials.

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez said: "This is a beautiful day for John Solecki and his family in New Jersey. I am thrilled for them."

U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg said he was relieved to hear that Solecki was reunited with his family. "John and his family have had to endure far too much anguish since February," Lautenberg said.

Led operations in Quetta
Solecki, who joined the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 1991, had led the agency's operations in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan's Baluchistan province, helping Afghan refugees who had crossed into Pakistan fleeing the violence in their own country.

Solecki was seized on his way into work. His driver had been a 17-year employee of UNHCR.

A previously unknown group, the Baluchistan Liberation United Front, claimed responsibility for the abduction, threatening to behead him and issuing a grainy video on Feb. 13 of a blindfolded Solecki pleading for help.

They renewed the threats in March, demanding the release of hundreds of people from alleged detention by Pakistani security agencies.

Officials said Solecki's captors recently called a local news agency to tell them where to look, and the owner of a restaurant alongside the main highway between Quetta and Karachi told The Associated Press that he found Solecki lying in the dirt near a wall saying "Help me, help me" in English.

U.N. spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis said Solecki left the country on a special medical flight early Sunday morning after spending the night in a military hospital in Quetta. He arrived at his parents home Tuesday.

Solecki grew up in Demarest, graduating from high school there and earning degrees from Columbia University. His father, a Columbia professor emeritus, is an anthropologist renown for his expertise on early man and his excavation of the Neanderthal site at Shanidar Cave in Iraq.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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