Swiss hostages escape Pakistani Taliban: Swiss FM

Emmanuel Giroud
1 / 3

Olivier David Och, 31, and Daniela Widmer, 28, had been held captive for over eight months

Swiss couple Olivier David Och and Daniela Widmer arrive at the Qasim base in Rawalpindi, Pakistan on March 15. The Swiss couple held captive by the Pakistani Taliban for over eight months were flown back to the capital on Thursday, smiling and waving to the cameras and apparently in good health

A Swiss couple escaped after being held captive by the Pakistani Taliban for more than eight months, Switzerland's foreign minister said on Thursday.

Didier Burkhalter said no ransom was paid for policeman Olivier David Och, 31, and Daniela Widmer, 28, who were flown to the Pakistan capital Islamabad, smiling and waving to the cameras and apparently in good health.

The couple were abducted at gunpoint on July 1 in the southwestern province of Baluchistan, apparently on holiday.

Pakistani officials said they were found at a checkpost in the tribal belt, a Taliban and Al-Qaeda stronghold on the Afghan border but the nature of what happened was clouded in mystery.

They were seen by journalists for the first time at the Qasim airbase in Rawalpindi, the headquarters of the Pakistani army that lies adjacent to Islamabad, where they smiled and waved but were not permitted to speak.

Widmer stepped out of a military helicopter wearing a baggy pink shirt in traditional Pakistani style, a red scarf wrapped loosely over her shoulders and her blonde hair swept into a bun.

She was followed shortly by Och, who was sporting a bushy beard and wearing beige shalwar khamis and, despite the relatively warm spring day, a white hat.

Both stepped into a minibus and witnesses later told AFP they were driven away from the airbase with embassy officials.

The military said the couple were flown from the tribal area to the main northwestern city of Peshawar after being found after daybreak.

"They are safe and sound," army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told AFP. "They told us that they escaped and then they reported to our checkpost. That's what they told intelligence agencies currently debriefing them."

Speaking at a press conference in Bern, Burkhalter praised Och, a policeman from Bern, and Widmer, saying they had escaped and shown "great courage".

The foreign minister said "no ransom was paid" for the couple as Switzerland does not pay to free hostages.

"The Swiss ambassador to Pakistan is in direct contact with them and was satisfied they were not injured and that their health, given the circumstances, is good," the Swiss foreign ministry said in a statement.

The couple were in a safe place in Pakistan and their return to Switzerland was planned as soon as possible, it said.

Five foreigners remain kidnapped in Pakistan: an American, a Briton, a German, an Italian and a Kenyan. All of them are aid and development workers.

The Pakistani Taliban had claimed the Swiss abduction, demanding that they be exchanged for Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist jailed in 2010 in New York for the attempted murder of US government agents in Afghanistan.

But the details surrounding the couple's recovery were unclear and senior Taliban commanders could not be reached.

Pakistani officials said the Taliban released the couple in Spilga village in North Waziristan, the most notorious Taliban and Al-Qaeda stronghold in Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal belt that borders Afghanistan.

But they were not able to say whether any ransom had been paid or demands from the Taliban had been accepted.

"They were found near a checkpost on the main road early in the morning," one Pakistani official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

In October, a video emerged of the couple -- apparently in relatively good health -- flanked by four masked gunmen pointing rifles at their heads.

Wali-ur Rehman, deputy head of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan faction that is linked to Al-Qaeda, had claimed the kidnapping, telling AFP in July that they were in "a very safe place" and that they were "completely in good health".

Siddiqui, dubbed "Lady Qaeda" by US tabloids, was sentenced to 86 years in prison after being found guilty of grabbing a rifle at an Afghan police station where she was being interrogated and opening fire on servicemen and FBI agents.

According to visas stamped in their passports, the Swiss couple arrived in Pakistan from India on June 28.

The pair entered Baluchistan from Punjab province and may have been heading for Quetta, possibly en route to Iran, officials in Islamabad have said.

Their blue Volkswagen van was found abandoned in Loralai district, around 170 kilometres (100 miles) east of the Baluchistan capital Quetta.

Baluchistan, which borders Iran and Afghanistan, attracts few tourists due to separatist violence and Taliban activity.

Switzerland has advised against non-essential travel to Pakistan since 2008, citing risks including the threat of kidnapping.

  • Russian opposition leader Navalny detained over illegal protest
    News
    AFP News

    Russian opposition leader Navalny detained over illegal protest

    Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny said he was briefly detained Thursday for organising illegal protests as Russia prepares to hold presidential polls next month. Navalny, who has been barred from challenging President Vladimir Putin in the election, now faces a court hearing and up to 30 days

  • Target's Natural Beauty Line Brings Clean Beauty To The Masses
    News
    HuffPost

    Target's Natural Beauty Line Brings Clean Beauty To The Masses

    Natural beauty products might be good for your heath, but many of the most well-known brands ― like Tata Harper, ILIA, RMS Beauty and Axiology ―  can deal a big blow to your wallet.

  • Anger in Nigerian village as girls still missing after Boko Haram attack
    News
    Reuters

    Anger in Nigerian village as girls still missing after Boko Haram attack

    The governor of Nigeria's Yobe state told residents of the village of Dapchi in person on Thursday that 76 of their schoolgirls who were reported to have been rescued from Islamist Boko Haram kidnappers were in fact still missing. "The government said yesterday the girls have been found, then

  • NRA chief slams anti-gun 'elites' after Florida school massacre
    News
    Reuters

    NRA chief slams anti-gun 'elites' after Florida school massacre

    The head of the National Rifle Association lashed out at gun control advocates on Thursday, saying Democratic elites are politicizing the latest mass school shooting in the United States to try to erode constitutionally guaranteed gun rights. NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre echoed President Donald

  • Kurdish YPG militia urges Syrian army to help it stop Turkey
    News
    Reuters

    Kurdish YPG militia urges Syrian army to help it stop Turkey

    BEIRUT/ANKARA (Reuters) - The Syrian Kurdish YPG militia said on Thursday that fighters backing the Syrian government were deploying on the frontlines to help repel a Turkish assault, but that assistance would be needed from the Syrian army itself. In a move that may ease one of the Syrian government

  • UN bid for Syria ceasefire falters as Russia says no deal
    News
    AFP News

    UN bid for Syria ceasefire falters as Russia says no deal

    After two weeks of negotiations, Russia on Thursday told the UN Security Council that there was still no agreement on a 30-day ceasefire in Syria, dimming hopes of international action to halt the carnage in Eastern Ghouta. During a council meeting called by Russia, Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia presented

  • Romanian govt wants corruption prosecutor fired
    News
    AFP News

    Romanian govt wants corruption prosecutor fired

    Romania's justice minister launched on Thursday a procedure to sack the popular and internationally respected head of the anti-corruption investigation body. Tudorel Toader from the left-wing Social Democratic Party (PSD) said that Laura Codruta Kovesi had "damaged the image" of Romania

  • Cameroon's main opposition leader rules out presidential run
    News
    AFP News

    Cameroon's main opposition leader rules out presidential run

    Cameroon's veteran opposition leader and perennial presidential hopeful John Fru Ndi said Thursday he will not challenge the long-ruling President Paul Biya in this year's elections. Fru Ndi, 76, hailing from the troubled anglophone west of the country, has lost to Biya three times -- in 1992

  • Earliest cave art belonged to Neanderthals, not humans: study
    News
    AFP News

    Earliest cave art belonged to Neanderthals, not humans: study

    The world's oldest known cave art was crafted by Neanderthals more than 20,000 years before modern humans arrived in Europe, showing that our extinct cousins were capable of symbolic thinking just like us, international researchers said Thursday. The report in the journal Science is based on new

  • Slovak PM refuses to ratify treaty to protect women
    News
    AFP News

    Slovak PM refuses to ratify treaty to protect women

    Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico on Thursday said he refused to ratify a treaty safeguarding women because he considers it at odds with the country's constitutional definition of marriage as a heterosexual union. Just over half of the members of the Council of Europe have ratified the human rights

  • Dutch MPs recognise Armenian 'genocide'
    News
    AFP News

    Dutch MPs recognise Armenian 'genocide'

    Dutch lawmakers Thursday overwhelmingly voted in favour of recognising the early 1900s massacre of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire as "genocide", in a move likely to worsen already-strained ties with Turkey. "The motion is accepted," parliamentary speaker Khadija Arib announced

  • Five-day assault on Syria enclave kills more than 400
    News
    AFP News

    Five-day assault on Syria enclave kills more than 400

    Fresh bombardment on Eastern Ghouta killed dozens Thursday, bringing the number of dead civilians in a five-day assault by the Syrian government to more than 400. Mounting calls for a humanitarian truce in one of the bloodiest episodes of Syria's seven-year conflict went unheeded as 46 more people

  • Le Pen niece to US conservatives: 'France first' for the French
    News
    AFP News

    Le Pen niece to US conservatives: 'France first' for the French

    Hardline former French MP Marion Marechal-Le Pen told American conservatives Thursday that her nation's far-right movement was "standing side by side" with the supporters and nationalist policies of President Donald Trump. "Just like you, we want our country back," the telegenic

  • Exclusive: U.S. official focused on election security being shoved aside
    News
    Reuters

    Exclusive: U.S. official focused on election security being shoved aside

    The head of a federal agency who has helped U.S. states protect election systems from possible cyber attacks by Russia or others is being removed from his post by Republican House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan and the White House. Matthew Masterson, currently chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance

  • The GOP Wants To Gut The Americans With Disabilities Act
    Lifestyle
    HuffPost

    The GOP Wants To Gut The Americans With Disabilities Act

    Nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population is disabled.

  • Haiti suspends Oxfam operations pending sex scandal probe
    News
    AFP News

    Haiti suspends Oxfam operations pending sex scandal probe

    Haiti on Thursday suspended the operations of British charity Oxfam pending the outcome of its investigation into allegations that its staff sexually exploited Haitians after a devastating 2010 earthquake. The country's ministry of planning and foreign aid said Oxfam GB had made a "serious

  • UNICEF number two resigns after complaints of inappropriate behavior
    News
    AFP News

    UNICEF number two resigns after complaints of inappropriate behavior

    "I want to make clear I am not resigning from UNICEF because of the mistakes I made at Save the Children. "I am resigning because of the danger of damaging both UNICEF and Save the Children and our wider cause.

  • Germany nabs Russian hooligan over Euro 2016 attack on England fan
    News
    AFP News

    Germany nabs Russian hooligan over Euro 2016 attack on England fan

    German police on Thursday said they have arrested a Russian football hooligan wanted for the "attempted homicide" of an England supporter in Euro 2016 fan violence, which Russian President Vladimir Putin had sought to play down. The suspect, who was not named by police, risks up to 15 years

  • Palestinian President Abbas in U.S. hospital for routine checks: Palestinian official
    News
    Reuters

    Palestinian President Abbas in U.S. hospital for routine checks: Palestinian official

    The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, has gone into hospital in the United States for a routine check, a senior Palestinian official told Reuters on Thursday. Abbas, 82, addressed the U.N. Security Council in New York on Feb. 20 and called for an international conference to be held by mid-2018 to

  • Stymied by regulators, Airbnb looks to luxury vacations, hotels for growth
    Finance
    Reuters

    Stymied by regulators, Airbnb looks to luxury vacations, hotels for growth

    By Heather Somerville SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Airbnb is rolling out new services aimed at attracting travelers looking for luxury accommodations and traditional hotels, the latest move to contend with sputtering growth in its original home-renting business. The company on Thursday will unveil a new

  • These Stunning Plus-Size Swimsuits With Underwire Are Here To Lift You Up
    News
    HuffPost

    These Stunning Plus-Size Swimsuits With Underwire Are Here To Lift You Up

    Though we believe that every body is a bikini body, your swimsuit top might not feel the same, especially if you have a larger chest.

  • Comedian Michelle Wolf Will Headline The White House Correspondents' Dinner
    News
    HuffPost

    Comedian Michelle Wolf Will Headline The White House Correspondents' Dinner

    The White House Correspondents’ Association announced Thursday that comedian Michelle Wolf will headline the group’s annual dinner on April 28.

  • CNN Says It Didn't Ask Florida Shooting Survivor To Read A Scripted Question
    News
    HuffPost

    CNN Says It Didn't Ask Florida Shooting Survivor To Read A Scripted Question

    CNN is denying reports that it asked a Florida school shooting survivor to read a “scripted” question during a town hall debate on gun violence that aired on the network Wednesday night.

  • Dutch MPs recognise Armenian 'genocide'
    News
    AFP News

    Dutch MPs recognise Armenian 'genocide'

    Dutch lawmakers Thursday overwhelmingly voted in favour of recognising the 1915 massacres of Armenians as "genocide", in a move likely to further worsen already-strained ties with Turkey. "The motion is accepted," parliamentary speaker Khadija Arib announced after the lower house

  • German court delays ruling on diesel ban to next week
    News
    Reuters

    German court delays ruling on diesel ban to next week

    A German court has delayed a ruling on whether major cities can ban heavily polluting diesel cars, which could hit the resale value of up to 15 million vehicles in Europe's largest car market and force automakers to pay for costly modifications. "We still see a considerable need for guidance