18 South Koreans Abducted Off Bus in Afghanistan

Taliban gunmen abducted 18 members of a South Korean church group, and a purported spokesman for the Islamic militia said Friday that it will question the 15 women and three men about their activities in Afghanistan before deciding their fate.

Gunmen seized the group's bus Thursday as it traveled on the main road from the southern city of Kandahar to the capital Kabul, said Mohammad Zaman, the Ghazni province deputy police chief.

He blamed the kidnapping, which took place in Qarabagh district, on the "enemies of Afghanistan," a usual reference for Taliban and other militants that are active in the area.

Zaman could not say how many people were on the bus. A South Korean Foreign Ministry official said that some Koreans may have been kidnapped, but provided no details.

Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, the purported Taliban spokesman, said 18 South Koreans, 15 women and three men, were abducted by the militants.

"We are investigating, who are they, what are they doing in Afghanistan," Ahmadi said, speaking on a satellite phone from an undisclosed location. "After our investigation, the Taliban higher authorities will make a decision about their fate."

"Right now they are safe and sound," Ahmadi told The Associated Press.

Ahmadi's claim could not be independently verified.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency said the kidnapped Koreans were members of Saemmul Community Church in Bundang, south of the capital Seoul.

An official for the Presbyterian church said the South Korean Foreign Ministry had informed it that its members may be those abducted. She said 20 church members left South Korea a week ago for volunteer work in Afghanistan.

The church was trying to find out if the fears were true but was unable to reach the group, she said on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to address the media.

The kidnapping comes a day after two Germans and five of their Afghan colleagues, working on a dam project, were abducted in the central Wardak province.

On June 28, another German man was kidnapped in western Afghanistan, but was released after a week. The kidnappers, using tribal elders as intermediaries, demanded $40,000. It was not clear whether money changed hands.