Captors issue death threat

CHAGMALAI (Pakistan): Al-Qaeda-linked militants holding two Chinese engineers hostage in Pakistan threatened to kill one yesterday unless security forces ended a siege of their hideout, a tactic a minister said had echoes of Iraq. 

Abdullah Mehsud, leader of the kidnappers holding the engineers in Pakistan's remote South Waziristan region, initially insisted that they and the hostages be allowed to join him in a nearby area by noon otherwise one of the Chinese would be killed. 

The deadline was subsequently extended by four hours and officials said negotiations were continuing. 

“There is no change in the situation,” said a senior security official as the extended 4pm deadline passed. “Tribal elders are in contact with the militants.” 

The kidnappers were also demanding an end to military operations in the semi-autonomous tribal region and the freeing of two Uzbek al-Qadea militants, officials said. 

The kidnappers, with explosives strapped to their bodies, were holed up in a mud house surrounded by security forces and their tribal allies in the Chagmalai area of South Waziristan, about 330km south-west of Islamabad. 

Hundreds have died in the tribal area since March in battles between security forces and al-Qaeda-linked militants, including Chechens, Uzbeks and Arabs, protected by local tribesmen. 

Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao said the kidnappers had threatened to blow themselves up along with the hostages unless their demands were met. “They have mines strapped to their bodies. They also have grenades,” he told reporters. 

Abdullah, who calls himself Commander Abdullah, is a former inmate of the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay freed with 25 others in March after the Pentagon said they were no longer a threat to the United States and had no intelligence value. 

The engineers abducted early on Saturday are Wang Ende and Wang Peng, who were working on Pakistan's Gomal Zam Dam project for China's state-run Sino Hydro Corp. 

Sino Hydro said it was hopeful the hostages would be released as their abductors were targeting neither the firm nor Chinese. China – a traditional ally of Pakistan, supplying it with arms and hundreds of millions of dollars in development finance – has urged Islamabad to do all it can to rescue the engineers and also called on it to increase security for their co-workers. – Reuters  

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