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2 Western health workers kidnapped in northern Afghanistan

A search is under way for two foreign women and two Afghan men who were kidnapped Tuesday in Afghanistan’s northern Badakhshan province, local officials said.

The women – both Westerners – are health care workers. They were traveling with three male colleagues about 55 miles from Badakhshan’s capital, Faizabad, when they were abducted by six gunmen, said Sakhi Dad, the provincial security chief.

One of the Afghan men escaped, Dad said, while the two women and their male interpreters were taken by the kidnappers to Shar-e-Bozurg district.

Abdul Maroof Rasikha, a spokesman for Badakhshan’s governor, said the women worked for Medair, a nongovernmental organization based in Switzerland, and were traveling by horseback when the group was kidnapped.

“We don’t know yet whether the kidnappers are robbers, smugglers or irresponsible armed groups,” Rasekh said. He said there was minimal Taliban activity in the area.

Medair, which according to its website “brings life-saving relief and rehabilitation in disasters, conflict areas and other crises by working alongside the most vulnerable,” confirmed that two of its female employees had been kidnapped, but it offered no other comment.

“We have requested everybody to withhold the nationalities, just so that we don’t jeopardize anybody,” a Medair worker told McClatchy from the organization’s head office. She spoke only on the condition of anonymity, because she wasn’t authorized to talk to journalists.

Rasekh said the nationalities of the two women weren’t clear, as officials had been unable to get confirmation from Medair’s office in Faizabad.

He said the organization had been active in Badakhshan for 15 years, and the kidnapped women were working on a project to improve nutrition among local women and children.

Special correspondent Ali Safi contributed to this article from Kabul.