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2 French aid workers kidnapped in Afghanistan

French aid group Action Against Hunger said two of its workers have been kidnapped in Afghanistan and are believed to still be alive.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Two French humanitarian workers were kidnapped at gunpoint Friday in Afghanistan and spirited out of the house they were sleeping in, the aid group Action Against Hunger and the French Foreign Ministry said.

The two are believed to be alive, the Paris-based group said in a statement.

Also Friday, explosions were reported in Helmand Province and in Kabul.

A Friday morning blast in Helmand province's Nava district killed three guards and wounded four, said provincial police chief Mohammad Hussein Andiwal.

Later Friday, Mohammad Nasim, a police official in Kabul, reported that an explosion in the western part of the capital had damaged property, including a mosque, in a residential neighborhood. There were no reports of casualties.

The blast occurred near an office of the Afghan Millat, or Afghan Nation, political party, but it was not clear whether there was any link.

Increase in violence
The bombings and kidnappings come amid concern that the Taliban-led insurgency is gaining momentum seven years after the hard-line Islamic regime was ousted by a U.S.-led invasion. Violence has been on the rise in the country, and just this week militants penetrated an American outpost in the east, killing nine U.S. soldiers.

In response to the increased bloodshed, Pentagon leaders have said they are looking for ways to send additional troops to Afghanistan this year.

The two French aid workers were abducted when kidnappers burst into their house in Nili, in the central Afghan province of Day Kundi, and bundled them into waiting vehicles, Action Against Hunger said. The kidnappers, who struck at about 1 a.m., had tied up guards posted outside the house.

Action Against Hunger said it was working to win the workers' release as soon as possible.

The aid group said it had suspended its activities in Afghanistan in response to the kidnapping. The group has been working in Afghanistan since 1979 and has 10 foreign staffers and about 150 locals working in the country, according to its Web site.

France's Foreign Ministry confirmed the kidnappings and said a crisis unit would be set up to help win the hostages' liberation.

Two French aid workers from another humanitarian group, Terre d'Enfance, were kidnapped last year and held for weeks before being released. The Taliban had claimed responsibility for those kidnappings and demanded the withdrawal of French troops in Afghanistan.

France currently has about 1,500 troops in the country, and President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged last April to contribute 700 more soldiers to the NATO-led forces there. The new troops are expected to be deployed by the end of the year.

Suspected bomber, plot
Also Friday, an Afghan police officials alleged that U.S. soldiers shot and wounded a suspected bomber as they took custody of her from Afghan police.

Gen. Khan Mohammad Mujahid, police chief in central Ghazni province, said the woman and a 12-year-old boy were taken into Afghan custody Thursday evening in Ghazni city. The woman, believed to be Pakistani, was later taken by the American soldiers, he said.

Mujahid initially said the police argued with the Americans over giving up custody. But he later said there was no argument and that the woman lunged at one of the U.S. soldiers, prompting the gunshot.

U.S. military officials said they did not immediately have comment.

The two suspects were found carrying explosives and a map marked with the governor's residence and that of other provincial leaders, according to Sayid Ismail Jahangir, spokesman for the provincial governor.

Jahangir said the woman was 25, spoke Arabic, English and Urdu, and was from the Multan area in Pakistan. He said she had admitted to investigators that the two had planned to kill the governor or other officials.

Also, Zabul deputy provincial police chief Jailani Khan said that Taliban militants had attacked a convoy carrying supplies for NATO forces Thursday. The 30-minute gunbattle killed one Afghan security worker and wounded five, he said.

More than 2,500 people — mostly militants — have died in insurgency-related violence this year in Afghanistan, according to an Associated Press tally of official figures.