‘Mysterious’ freedom: Swiss hostages ‘escape’ Taliban captivity

By AFP
Published: March 16, 2012

Olivier David Och and Daniela Widmer arrive at the Qasim base in Rawalpindi. PHOTO: AFP

MIRANSHAH: 

Daniela Widmer stepped out of a military helicopter wearing a baggy pink traditional Pakistani kurti, a red scarf wrapped loosely over her shoulders and her blonde hair swept into a bun.

She was followed shortly by Olivier Och, who was sporting a bushy beard and wearing beige shalwar kamiz and, despite the relatively warm spring day, a warm white hat.

Both stepped into a minibus and witnesses said they were driven away from the airbase by embassy officials.

Having been in the captivity of the Taliban for over eight months, the Swiss couple suddenly reappeared on Thursday – recovered by the Pakistani security forces yesterday morning, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar told her Swiss counterpart.

In a statement released by the Foreign Office, it was revealed that the couple was being handed over to the Swiss embassy in Islamabad. The couple claimed they escaped their captors in the lawless tribal belt, the army said.

“They are safe and sound. We shifted them to Peshawar,” army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told AFP.

Och, 31, and Widmer, 28, were abducted at gunpoint on July 1, 2011, in Balochistan, where they were apparently on holiday. Their blue Volkswagen van was found abandoned in the Loralai district, around 170 kilometres east of Quetta.

“They told us that they escaped and then they reported to our check post. That’s what they told intelligence agencies currently debriefing them,” Abbas said.

Meanwhile, the Swiss foreign ministry said: “The Swiss ambassador to Pakistan is in direct contact with them and was satisfied they were not injured and that their health, given the circumstances, is good.”

The couple were in a safe place in Pakistan and their return to Switzerland was planned as soon as possible.

Och and Widmer were flown to Islamabad from an airbase in Rawalpindi, where they were seen smiling, waving to cameras for the first time — apparently in good health.

Upon the news of the recovery, the Swiss foreign minister expressed gratitude for Pakistan’s successful efforts in retrieving the missing couple and Khar thanked Switzerland for its “patience and understanding, appreciating its valuable support to Pakistan in counter terrorism”.

Switzerland’s Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter said that the Swiss couple were able to escape and no ransom was paid. Speaking at a press conference in Bern, Burkhalter praised the couple, who he said showed “great courage” and were free.

The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed the abduction in July, demanding that they be exchanged for Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist sentenced in 2010 in New York for the attempted murder of US government agents in Afghanistan.

But the details surrounding the couple’s recovery were unclear.

Pakistani officials, speaking to AFP before the couple claimed to have escaped, had not been able to say whether any ransom had been paid or demands from the Taliban accepted. The Swiss embassy refused to comment when contacted by AFP.

In October, a video emerged of the couple – appearing to be in relatively good health – flanked by four masked gunmen pointing rifles at their heads.

Officials said the Taliban released the couple in Spilga village in North Waziristan, a militant stronghold in the tribal belt that borders Afghanistan.

“They were found near a check post on the main road early in the morning [in Miranshah],” one Pakistani security official told AFP, refusing to be named because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

Another intelligence official said the Swiss were then flown by helicopter to Peshawar.

Waliur Rehman, deputy head of the TTP faction that is linked to al Qaeda, had claimed the kidnapping, telling AFP in July that they were in “a very safe place” and were “in completely good health”.

According to visas stamped in their passports, the Swiss couple arrived in Pakistan from India on June 28, 2011.

The pair entered Balochistan from Punjab and may have been heading for Quetta, possibly en route to Iran, officials in Islamabad have said.

Switzerland has advised against non-essential travel to Pakistan since 2008, citing risks including the threat of kidnapping.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 16th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (6)

  • Mubeen
    Mar 16, 2012 - 5:06AM

    “Och and Widmer were flown to Islamabad from an airbase in Rawalpindi”

    Really?

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  • AllahRukha
    Mar 16, 2012 - 5:19AM

    What ET failed to discuss was their purpose in Pakistan. What were they doing in Pakistan and in Baluchistan?

    Why we have to sensationalize every story and forget the simple questions?

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  • Mumbai Dude
    Mar 16, 2012 - 8:53AM

    The guy looks like a Taliban. May be the taliban took him for a friendly tea :)

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  • Pollack
    Mar 16, 2012 - 9:43AM

    This is an easy one to figure out. Any government in the world does not want to be seen as giving in to terrorists by giving them ransom money. So the way it works is the govt actually gives the terrorists ransom but “requests” the terrorists to let the prisoners “escape”. Since the media reports that the prisoners have “escaped”, the government is not put in a position where it has to accept that it paid ransom for the release of prisoners. So the terrorists laugh all the way to their bank and the people for whom that government works for get fooled by all this tamasha.

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  • Bill
    Mar 16, 2012 - 10:51AM

    AllahRukha, I’m not quite sure what you are getting at. Are you suggeting they were somehow spies? What is it with Pakistani suspicion of foreigners? Western Europe, Australia and the United States are home to many millions of Pakistanis, who can practice their faith, ‘call’ for their relatives and earn money/live of the state. People don’t really care about them. These two were on holiday. Instead of looking for a foreign conspiracy everywhere, look at yourself if I were you and ask why your country is falling apart (Its not because of foreign spies, beleive me)

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  • Irene Hiralal
    May 6, 2012 - 2:05PM

    A bit late to give our comments on the David and Daniela ord

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