American U.N. Official Kidnapped in Pakistan

QUETTA, Pakistan – Gunmen kidnapped an American U.N. official and killed his driver in southwestern Pakistan on Monday, underscoring the security threat in a country wracked by al-Qaida violence and rising criminality.

The official was abducted in the morning on his way to his job as head of the U.N. refugee office in the city of Quetta, senior police official Khalid Masood said. He identified the kidnapped official as John Solecki of the United States.

"Solecki has been serving in Quetta for more than two years," Masood told The Associated Press. "We cannot speculate on the motive behind the crime."

Authorities sealed exit routes from the city to track down the abductors, said Wazir Khan Nasir, another senior police official.

Southwestern Pakistan is the scene of a low-level insurgency driven by nationalist groups wanting more autonomy for Baluchistan province. But, unlike Taliban and al-Qaida militants in the northwest, the Baluch groups are not known to target foreigners, and three police officials said they could not recall another foreigner being kidnapped in Quetta.

However, general crime also has been on the rise in many parts of the country, with kidnappings for ransom a favorite tactic. An Iranian diplomat was abducted in the northwestern city of Peshawar last year, and Afghans and other foreigners also have been nabbed.

Masood said he was told of Solecki's nationality by a Pakistani official from the U.N. agency.

U.N. spokeswoman Amena Kamaal in Islamabad confirmed that a Pakistani driver was killed and a foreign national employee's whereabouts were unknown but declined to release any other details pending notification of relatives. U.S. Embassy spokesman Lou Fintor said American officials were looking into the reports.

It was not immediately clear what impact the kidnapping would have on U.N. staff. September's bombing of Islamabad's Marriott Hotel had already prompted new U.N. rules prohibiting expatriate staff in Pakistan from living with their children in cities including Quetta.

Quetta is the capital of Baluchistan province, which partly borders Afghanistan. The dusty, gritty city is rumored to be home to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who is believed to have fled Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion in 2001.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has worked for years in the region helping Afghans fleeing violence in their homeland.

At the scene of the kidnapping in the Chaman Housing Society neighborhood on Monday, a UNHCR Land Cruiser was rammed against a wall. At least one bullet hole was visible on the vehicle. Security officials were collecting evidence.

Solecki did not have a police escort while he was traveling, Masood said.

"We have learned that he usually did not like to have an escort with him on his way to the office," Masood said.

Nasir said Solecki's office and home had security, including police.

"We had given adequate security to him," Nasir said. "We also had a meeting with him, and we had fulfilled all requirements he had discussed with us." He did not give more details.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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