The fate of two Bangladeshi NGO workers in Afghanistan remained unknown on Friday, a day after gunmen abducted them in Kunduz province, said officials with the organization.
Hazi Shawkat, 50, and Md. Sirajul Islam Khan (Sumon), 38, both employees of the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), were whisked away at gunpoint as they drove from Kunduz to Baghlan province on Thursday afternoon, family members and BRAC officials said.
The pair’s abduction is the seventh kidnapping of Bangladeshis working for BRAC in Afghanistan since 2007. Three of the hostages were killed in the earlier cases.
“We do not know whether he will come back. Please help us get his release,” Sumon’s cousin, Md. Abdul Khaleque Khan, told BenarNews on Friday, saying that news of the abduction sickened the entire family.
Shawkat is from the Kishoreganj district, in central Bangladesh, and Sumon is from the Pabna district, in the country’s northwest.
BRAC – the world’s largest NGO with overseas branches in the United States, Africa and Asia – has been working in war-wracked Afghanistan since the overthrow of the Taliban-led regime in 2002.
No group has claimed responsibility for the abduction, BRAC Communications Director Ronnie Mirza told BenarNews.
“None contacted [us] for ransom or to make other demands,” Mirza said, adding that his organization had notified police and the foreign ministry about the incident.
Kunduz is a stronghold for Taliban militants. The Taliban and other militant groups oppose NGOs and women’s education.
BRAC employs 1.15 million people and offers education and health programs to more than 5.64 million people in Afghanistan through more than 400 local offices, according to the NGO’s website.
Sumon has been working for BRAC for about 10 years and married a graduate student, Lata Khatun, two years ago, according to his cousin.
“He came to Bangladesh in the middle of January this year and left for Afghanistan on Feb. 15. Sumon and Lata planned to have babies after he finish his assignment in Afghanistan,” Md. Abdul Khaleque Khan said.
BRAC officials said employees understood the risks of working in Afghanistan. The NGO offers extra pay for those staffers who take on assignments there.
In September 2007, gunmen abducted BRAC employee Nurul Islam and released him 83 days later. Bangladesh newspapers reported he was released following a ransom payment. Another BRAC employee was killed that year.
The next year, two more BRAC employees were abducted and released after 10 days.
In 2010, militants killed a BRAC engineer and abducted six of his colleagues. The abducted employees were later released.
And four years ago, gunmen stormed a BRAC office in Afghanistan, killing worker Mohammad Mohiuddin.
‘Secret contact’ with Afghan militants
“In many cases, the local Afghan employees maintain secret contact with the militants when they have disagreements with the Bangladeshi staff. Bangladeshi staff are their targets for collecting ransom,” a BRAC employee who had been abducted told BenarNews on condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, Bangladeshi State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam told BenarNews that the foreign ministry learned about the abduction through press reports.
“We cannot do anything today as Friday is a holiday. Besides, we have no resident mission in Afghanistan. We need time to find out ways to get their release,” he said.