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Taliban kidnap gang chief released early

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  • Taliban kidnap gang chief released early

    Page last updated at 13:55 GMT, Wednesday, 7 April 2010 14:55 UK
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    Taliban kidnap gang chief released early
    By Kate Clark
    BBC News

    Taliban militants
    Akbar Agha was a senior Taliban commander

    A Taliban commander who was jailed for kidnapping foreigners in Kabul was released early, the BBC has learnt.

    Akbar Agha was sentenced to 16 years in prison for kidnapping three UN workers in the Afghan capital in 2004. He was released from prison late last year.

    His friends told the BBC he had been pardoned by President Hamid Karzai. But a spokesman said the president "could not recall the matter".

    The UN staff were the first foreigners to be kidnapped in Kabul.

    One was a woman from Northern Ireland, the other two were men from Kosovo and the Philippines.

    They were released after nearly a month in captivity.

    Akbar Agha had used the kidnap to launch a Taliban splinter group, Jaish-ul-Muslimeen or The Army of Muslims.

    But he and the kidnap gang were arrested and Akbar Agha was given a long jail sentence.

    The BBC has now discovered that Agha was quietly freed late last year, possibly just before the festival of Eid al-Adha in mid-November. The UN is understood to have learnt about the release in the summer.

    Eide 'irritated'

    Friends said President Karzai had pardoned him, on condition that he stayed in Kabul.

    The president didn't raise it with me and I didn't raise it with him
    Former UN envoy Kai Eide

    Afghanistan's Army of Muslims

    A presidential spokesman told the BBC that he had looked into the records of pardons and had not been able to find any mention of this case.

    No announcement was made, but the former head of the United Nations in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, said he had been informed about the planned release.

    "Concerning the question if I would approve of this pardon, I'm not giving acceptance - that would have been complete madness," Mr Eide said.

    "The chief justice should call or write to me directly. I was irritated… This was not an acceptable channel. The president didn't raise it with me and I didn't raise it with him."

    The British embassy said it could not comment on whether it had been informed.

    One of Akbar Agha's friends - who went to welcome him out of jail - said that people from Kandahar had been demanding his release for a long time.

    "Akbar Agha is from a spiritual family - that is why they wanted him released.

    "He was pardoned on condition that he stays in Kabul. The government's paying the rent on his house - I think it's about $1,000 a month."

    Threat to justice

    Michael Semple - who worked for the European Union in Kabul and was at the heart of the operation to free the hostages - told the BBC that it was extremely unlikely that Akbar Agha was released as part of the reconciliation process with the Taliban.

    "He headed up a splinter group which tried to turn the jihad into business. He acted outside the authority of Mullah Omar and the Taliban," he said.

    "They did not condone kidnapping and did not approve of his actions and frankly I suspect they were rather happy to see him locked up. That probably helped them discipline the insurgency and maintain control over the organisation."

    Afghan Human Rights Commissioner Nader Naderi said that he had been shocked - but not surprised by the pardon.

    "So many are now being given," he said. "If it's used without the public knowledge and not transparent, it can undermine justice... most of those people who are powerful have access to the president and can buy their way out."

    Other controversial pardons which have come to light have been given to major drug traffickers and rapists.
    To sit down with these men and deal with them as the representatives of an enlightened and civilized people is to deride ones own dignity and to invite the disaster of their treachery - General Matthew Ridgway