Held Hostage in Afghanistan
It was nothing short of a miracle when five Bangladeshis, kidnapped on December 17, 2010 in Afghanistan, and kept hostage for seven agonising months, set foot on their motherland last week. After being confined in a stuffy room and cave in a hilly area for all those months, the five Bangladeshi workers were allowed to have a bath for the first time since their abduction just three days before their release. They were not even given enough water to drink, wash hands and faces. The abductors gave the five ill-fated labourers 10 litres water each day for drinking and washing.
Abducted at gunpoint by a group of unidentified men from a remote road construction camp near the town of Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan, the Bangladeshi nationals were released following a prolonged negotiation and diplomatic efforts on August 2.
Family members, for whom every day was a living nightmare, anguishing over whether their loved ones were dead or alive, gathered at the Hazrat Shah Jalal International Airport on Saturday morning.
Aminul Islam, Shafiqul Alam Khokan and Abdur Rahman Lablu of Kalihati in Tangail, Mahbub Ali of Charghat in Rajshahi and Imam Uddin of Rangunia in Chittagong were the ill-fated workers who became a part of a seven-month long horror story.
As the victims walked out from the airport terminal, family members, waiting outside the gate, broke into tears after seeing the faces of their beloved ones. The released hostages too, could not hold back their emotions, breaking down as family members rushed to them and hugged them.
“I thought I would never be able to see you again,” wailed Abdur Rahman Lablu embracing his teenage boy Ashiqur Rahman at the airport. The son, choked with emotion cried out, “Abba, I will never let you go abroad again.”
Foreign Minister Dipu Moni receiving the freed hostage at Hazrat Shah Jalal International Airport on
August 2.Photo: Star File
The victims related their ordeal. “We often found insects in the water which also smelled bad. But, we had to drink that water day after day,” said Imam Uddin, another returnee.
The captive workers were not given adequate food.
“We were served plain bread. Sometimes, they [kidnapers] provided us dry bread which we could hardly swallow,” said Abdur Rahman Bablu, another victim of Kalihati in Tangail.
“Our hair and beard turned too long and bushy after couple of months. But, they [kidnapers] did not allow us to cut them,” said Mahbub Ali.
At night, the kidnappers tied the legs of captive Bangladeshis together with iron chains to make sure that there was no escape.
“After four months in those rooms, the door and windows of which were kept closed most of the time; and in the cave, our skin started drying out,” said Shafiul Alam Khokan.
All the five workers, aged between 35 to 55, had gone to the war-ravaged country to work for a Korean company – Samwhan Corporation as construction workers. They managed to send from Tk 25,000 to 35,000 every month, for their families in Bangladesh.
Like many, going abroad to work, even if it was as labourers, was a dream for the five Bangladeshis. They had gone to Afghanistan to earn enough to ensure a better life for their families.
The workers constantly begged to be released but their kidnappers did not comply. At one stage the hostages lost all hope of ever being released.
“Almost every night, I woke up from sleep watching nightmare. I saw my wife was crying in front of my dead body,” said Aminul Islam. The others also went through a similar hell.
“I passed many nights without sleeping as fear of nightmare crippled me,” said Abdur Rahman Lablu who often became worried about the future of his family after his death.
So what were the reasons behind the kidnapping? The kidnapers were angry with the workers because they had constructed a road in Afghanistan under a Korean company that would create difficulties for the kidnappers to set mines in those constructed roads to destroy US troops. The captors also charged the Bangladeshi nationals for working under the foreign company saying that it was brought by the US-backed Hamid Karzai's government. The Bangladeshi workers were blamed for working under the company as it was run by non-Muslims.
On the day before the Bangladeshis were freed, abductors made the captives vow that they would return to Bangladesh immediately and would never go back to Afghanistan to work in a company run by a non-Muslim.
All but Aminul said the abductors were the members of Mujahideen. Aminul said they were members of the Taliban.
The kidnapers were chanting slogans in favour of Mujahideen after attacking the camp on December 17 and capturing the workers, said Imam Uddin. Aminul added that he had heard the captors discussing the valour of Mollah Umar several times in the village where the workers were imprisoned.
The kidnapers, however, never disclosed their identity, not even their names, to the captive workers.
In the evening of December 17, the workers in the camp suddenly heard sounds of firing of a rocket launcher and gunshots. After five to six minutes, they saw around 20 men armed with weapons enter the camp. In the meantime, the attackers attacked the members of the police who had been deployed there earlier.
The attackers then searched the rooms in the camps and found the Bangladeshi workers. At gunpoint, they then tied the hands of workers from their back and also covered their eyes with cloth. The hostages then were forced to walk for approximately five to six kilometres and then their hands and eyes were freed. The Bangladeshis then had to walk a whole night to reach a house in the morning.
After staying at the house for couple of hours, the kidnapers then blind folded the hostages again and took them in a vehicle to reach the place where the hostages would be locked up for seven months.
Not until a day before they would be freed, any idea about their release. On the evening of August 1, the kidnappers informed the Bangladeshis about their release the next day.
“Till then, I could not believe them [the captors]. My heart started beating faster when they told us,” said Abdur Rahman Lablu.
The workers said they could not sleep on the night of August 1 and counted the seconds for the sun to rise.
On August 2, the captives, again blinfolded, were taken to a vehicle. After around 40 minutes of journey, they were taken out of the vehicle and asked to walk. They were told that they would find their company staff ahead.
The hostages walked for a couple of hours and found a local who helped them to inform their company staff over phone of their release. Soon some staff members of the Korean company came with a car and took the Bangladeshis to their nearby camp.
They finally returned home after completing a primary medical check- up and other official formalities. It was like being given a new lease on life.