Twenty-one South Korean Christian aid workers remain in captivity in the Ghazni province of Afghanistan, facing the possibility of murderous deaths at the hands of the Taliban (or “Taleban”). Efforts by the Afghan government to affect their release and attempted negotiations by South Korean officials have thus far had little effect. To date, the radical Islamic group has murdered two men in the group, Bae Hyung Kyu, a pastor heading the relief effort, and Shim Sung Min, another volunteer. Another two hostages, women who reportedly are seriously ill, are being denied medical care. While the Taliban asserts different demands and terms for negotiation, they are reiterating threats to kill the remaining aid workers.
The group of kidnapped Christians was visiting Afghanistan to assist with long-term aid work at a hospital and a school. On July 19th, as their chartered bus traversed the road from Kabul to Kandahar, they were seized by the Taliban. The incident marked the largest abduction of foreigners in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, part of a pattern of growing violence and insurgency.
A Taliban revival?
“In recent months,” reports [Link] The Washington Post, “the Taliban has made its presence felt in widening swaths of territory, moving farther out of its traditional base in the south and into provinces ringing the capital. Taliban fighters have seized the Koreans and executed local judges in Ghazni province, killed schoolgirls in Logar province and abducted two German engineers in Wardak province, killing one.”
An August 5th [Link] article in The New York Times describing the important progress of the British Army in Helmand, a province in southern Afghanistan with “the largest concentration of insurgents” that also produces 42 per cent of the country's opium crop, offers a British commander's assessment of fighting the Taliban:
“(It) is like pressing mercury or squeezing a balloon …as insurgents are suppressed in one area, they emerge in another. And once pushed back in conventional fighting, the Taliban switch tactics to suicide attacks, roadside bombs and kidnappings.”
A detailed [Link] report from Amnesty International titled “Afghanistan; All who are not friends are enemies: Taleban abuses against civilians” describes numerous incidents of “war crimes or crimes against humanity”. The report, which is based largely on the findings of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), states:
“The Taleban have been responsible for hundreds of civilian deaths…Around 600 civilians were killed or wounded in the first seven months of 2006. Around 70 per cent of these casualties were linked to Taleban attacks. The Taleban have targeted and killed civilians whom they consider to be “spies” or “collaborators”, including Afghan and foreign reconstruction and aid workers, religious leaders, government administrators, women's rights activists and teachers. The Taleban have attacked civilians and civilian objects, such as school buildings, with little or no effort to distinguish between these and military targets, such as soldiers and combat vehicles.”
Civilians are not distinguished as “non-military” because, as the report later acknowledges, this is not a necessary distinction for the radical Islamic group.
“A fatwa, or religious edict, reportedly issued by the Taleban in December 2005 and signed by some 100 religious scholars in Afghanistan, orders the death of anyone who supports the US-led intervention. Qari Yousef Ahmadi, Taleban spokesperson, elaborated:
'It says in the fatwa that people should have no sympathy for infidels, they should avoid friendship with them and should also avoid giving them any moral or material support. Anyone who supports them morally or materially should be killed.' …
The 2005 fatwa apparently follows a similar fatwa issued by the Taleban in Kabul in September 2001 which reportedly imposes the death penalty for spying.”
A newer version of this religious ruling is noted in a December 2006 report on ABC News website:
“In his fatwa, Mufti Khalid Shah terms all employees of NGOs as agents of Jews and Christians. Shah stresses that there is no need to ask permission to kill and that everyone should declare jihad. He also adds that the time has come to use weapons of mass destruction against his enemies.”
The Church's response
In the days following the hostage taking and subsequent murder of two Christian aid workers, very few Christian leaders around the globe spoke out about the plight of the South Korean church group, denounced the slander against them, or affirmed their mission to the distressed and impoverished in Afghanistan as one of Gospel love and service -- albeit in an especially dangerous and needy area of the world. These captive Christians cannot be abandoned.