foreigners, as part of stepped up "terror tactics" used by insurgents, police confirmed.

In a statement, Ghazni Province deputy police chief Mohammad Zaman said gunmen stopped the bus Thursday, July 19,

on the country’s main highway from Kandahar to Kabul. A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, said "18 South Koreans were seized, including 15 men and three women," reported US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.  The reason for the discrepancy in the reported figures was not immediately clear.

"They are safe with us, we are investigating them and our demands and reaction will be announced later," said Taliban spokesman Said Yousuf Ahmadi by telephone from an undisclosed location.


Oh Soo-In, a senior administrator at the Saem-Mul Protestant Community Church near the Korean capital Seoul, told reporters the abductees were from her church.  She said the group had been on an evangelical mission in Afghanistan since July 13 and was due to return to South Korea on July 23.

The abductions were expected to raise concerns among missionaries working in the war-ravaged nation, which has seen an increase in kidnappings, suicide attacks and roadside bombings officials said. Afghan officials have described the attacks as part of insurgents’ efforts to demonstrate that the Afghan government is incapable of providing security to its people.

Interior Minister spokesman Zemari Bashari reportedly indirectly criticized the evangelicals. He said the 23 Korean citizens, 18 women and five men, "were very carelessly traveling in a chartered bus from Kabul to Kandahar yesterday," adding that "on the way to Kandahar their bus was stopped by armed men … and they took them away."

He said the incident happened in the Qarabagh district of Ghazni province, some 175 km (110 miles) south of the capital Kabul.


"We are still investigating which organization they were with, and why they were traveling to Kandahar," Reuters news agency quoted him as saying. The Korean embassy has said a search operation was scheduled and that negotiations were under way with the kidnappers, who allegedly were demanding the release of Taliban prisoners held in Afghan jails.

Despite the threats, South Korean evangelicals remain active in the country. Last year, the South Korean government reportedly tried to stop a group of 2,000 Korean Christians traveling to Afghanistan for a peace conference, fearing for their safety. However, 900 of them still came to Afghanistan, causing uproar in the staunchly Muslim country — where many accused them of being evangelical missionaries — before they were all deported, Reuters reported.

Afghanistan’s ambassador to South Korea was later sacked for issuing the group with visas, a Foreign Ministry representative said. South Korea has no combat troops in Afghanistan, but has a contingent of 200 engineers, doctors and medical staff.

Two Germans and six Afghans abducted southwest of Kabul on Wednesday were still missing. "The German citizens are safe with us. Our demand is the withdrawal of German troops from Afghanistan and also the release of our prisoners," said Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi in published remarks. 

Germany said it was aware of the Taliban claim. "We will carefully and calmly pursue developments. All necessary steps have been taken. The emergency task force is working very intensively on a quick release of both men," a German Foreign Ministry representative said in published remarks. (With BosNewsLife Senior Special Correspondent Eric Leijenaar and BosNewsLife’s Chief International Correspondent Stefan J. Bos. BosNewsLife Anti-Terrorism Task Force covering the threats of our time.)  

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