Abducted US, Australian professors plead for release

The two senior professors of the American University of Afghanistan under the custody of the Taliban have appeared in another video released by the militants, urging Washington and Canberra to enter prisoner swap deals to secure their liberty.

Kevin King, 60, a US citizen, and Australian Timothy Weeks, 48, have been in the militants’ captivity for almost a year now. The two senior professors of this prestigious and the only foreign university in Afghanistan were kidnapped from the capital Kabul in August last year.

In January the Taliban released a first video confirming the professors were in their custody.

In the new video, apparently recorded on 16 June and sent to media outlets in Afghanistan on 21 June by Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, both men are visibly shaken, frail and weak and can be seen pleading for their release.

“My freedom has been taken from me, and I want to spend the rest of my life in the service of American people and in the service of humanity,” King says, appealing to US President Donald Trump to offer a prisoner exchange to secure their freedom.

Weeks urged Australian politicians to raise the issue in Parliament, saying the only way for him to go home is for the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to speak to the Taliban and Trump in order to reach an agreement with their captors.

Weeks also said the Taliban are treating him well, giving him food, tea and milk; allowing him to exercise and making sure he has enough sleep. “I am still a prisoner, I am so far from home, far from my family and far from my friends,” he said.

The American University of Afghanistan on 2 June pleaded with the Taliban to unconditionally release King and Weeks, saying they "are innocents. Both came here to teach young Afghans, helping them to contribute to the rebuilding efforts of Afghanistan." The University has not reacted to the latest video.

The timing of the video release appears well planned by the Taliban, as the Kabul government is weighing options about hanging a number of convicted militant commanders, including Anas Haqqani of the fierce Haqqani Network who is currently in government custody.

Last month, a massive truck bombing in Kabul, allegedly carried out by the Taliban’s Haqqani Network with support from Pakistan’s spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, killed up to 150 people and left more than 400 wounded. Afghans have been urging the government to hang these militants, but the government has so far held back.

Anas received the death penalty in August last year. He was captured by US security officials after he visited Qatar in October 2014, along with another leader Hafiz Rashid. They were arrested in Bahrain, the Taliban confirmed at the time.

The Taliban said the two men had travelled to Qatar to meet the Taliban leaders who were freed from the infamous Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

The US later handed over Anas and another senior Taliban commander to Afghan authorities, although the Afghan government had claimed that Anas was arrested in eastern Khost province. No details about the identity of the prisoners have been shared with the media; however, a section of the Afghan media has reported it is unclear if Anas is in the list.

The Taliban has threatened "harsh exemplary attacks" in a statement on its website, including the killing of foreign hostages if the government executes their 11 prisoners, including Anas. Besides the two professors of the American University of Afghanistan, the Taliban are also holding Canadian backpacker Joshua Boyle and his American wife, Caitlan Coleman, who had two sons in captivity after being kidnapped in Afghanistan in 2012.