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Afghans Release Tajik 'Kidnapped By Mistake'

KULOB, Tajikistan -- A Tajik student has told of his kidnap ordeal at the hands of a group of Afghan drug smugglers in a suspected case of mistaken identity, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.

Samandar Shirinov told RFE/RL today he was abducted in the southern city of Kulob and taken across the border into Afghanistan, where he spent 20 days as a hostage before his abductors released him earlier this week.

Kulob's local Interior Ministry department confirmed Shirinov's kidnapping and subsequent release to RFE/RL, but declined to give other details.

Shirinov, a final-year student at Kulob State University, said that several weeks ago he was on his way to school when he was surrounded by group of unknown men.

He said the group covered his eyes and forced him into a car, taking him across the border into Afghanistan.

Shirinov's mother, Jahongul, told RFE/RL that as soon as her son disappeared the family informed police and security forces, but no trace of him was found.

She said that one week later the kidnappers contacted her by phone from Afghanistan and demanded $10,000 to release her son, but she told them she did not have that amount of money.

Shirinov said that as soon as his kidnappers had him on Afghan soil it became clear to them that they had made a mistake and abducted the wrong person.

He added that the kidnappers tried to demand ransom money, but that his mother's answer and her tears changed their minds and they released him without any condition.

He said his kidnappers then took him to the border area and handed him over to Tajik border guards.

Kidnappings of Tajik citizens by Afghan drug-smugglers are nothing new.

In recent years, dozens of Tajik citizens as well as cattle from villages closer to the border in Khatlon Province have been seized by armed Afghan smugglers.

Local authorities and analysts say the smugglers usually kidnap their partners who owe money for drug shipments.

Two months ago, authorities in Tajikistan's Shuroobod district bordering Afghanistan secured the release of two local Tajik citizens who had been kidnapped by Afghan drug smugglers.

The head of Shuroobod's Interior Ministry department, Sharif Naimov, declined to give details of that hostage release, saying only that it had been the result of long negotiations with the Afghan side.