KABUL, Afghanistan – Gunmen in a red Corolla cut off a van of French aid workers on Monday, kidnapping one and fatally shooting an Afghan who tried to thwart the abduction by grabbing an attacker's machine gun.
The kidnapping will add to the increasing anxiety felt by the international community in the Afghan capital, which has seen a rise in abductions and targeted shootings of foreigners in the last month.
Three assailants, two of them armed, tried to kidnap two French citizens riding in a small van, but after a scuffle the kidnappers grabbed one man, said Mohammad Daud Amin, a police commander.
The kidnapping took place as two French aid workers were being driven from a residence rented by the aid group ARFANE — AmitiDe Franco-Afghane, or French-Afghan friendship — said Etienne Gille, AFRANE's president.
"The car was blocked by another car that was driving the wrong way," from which "an armed man emerged," Gille told The Associated Press. AFRANE's employee managed to escape, while another French aid worker was taken, he said.
The French Foreign Ministry said French officials in Paris and Kabul were working "to win the liberation of our compatriot as soon as possible."
An Afghan man — identified by the Interior Ministry as an employee of the country's intelligence service — saw the kidnapping and tried to intervene, witnesses said.
"He grabbed the machine gun of one of the kidnappers, who opened fire, burning his hand. After that, the kidnapper shot him three times in the chest," said Mohammad Shafi, who owns a shop near the kidnapping site.
Amin confirmed that one of the kidnappers opened fire and killed the intelligence official.
Gille declined to provide the name or organization for which the kidnapped man worked but said he was in his 30s. The man, a French national, had been in Afghanistan about a week, Gille said, adding he believed it was his first time in the country.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said Taliban militants were not involved in the kidnapping.
Kidnappings by criminal groups in Afghanistan have spiked over the last year because of the lucrative ransoms that are paid to free hostages. Wealthy Afghans are typically targeted in the kidnappings, which are rarely reported in the media. But criminal groups have increasingly set their sights on Westerners in recent months.
The Taliban also kidnap Westerners and Afghans, but those abductions typically take place in rural provinces.
Karin von Hippel, co-director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Post-Conflict Reconstruction Project, said it may not be known for a while what the kidnappers' motives were.
"If it's criminal, it's a negotiation and you pay them off. If it's Taliban, they kill the person," she said.
Taliban militants also have traded Western hostages in exchange for jailed militants.
Last month, U.S. Special Forces freed an American citizen working for the Army Corps of Engineers who had been kidnapped and held for two months in Wardak province west of Kabul.
But Kabul itself has also seen a spike in crime against Westerners. Last month, a British-South African dual citizen aid worker, Gayle Williams, was killed by Taliban gunmen while walking to work. Also, two employees of the international shipping company DHL, one a British citizen and the other a South African, were killed by a gunman outside their office.
Criminal gangs also kidnapped a former Afghan presidential candidate and the son of the president of an Afghan bank. The two were rescued by Afghan intelligence officials.
Mohammad Hashim Mayar, the deputy director for the umbrella group overseeing Kabul's aid community, said attacks against relief workers have increased this year, with 28 killed in the first nine months compared to 17 during all of 2007.
"That affects the activities of (aid workers) working here in Afghanistan," said Mayar, of the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief. "Unfortunately it is the needy people who will be affected."