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Proof of life

U.S. and Australian hostages beg Trump to help free them from Taliban

U.S. and Australian hostages beg Trump to help free them from Taliban

Two professors kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan five months ago have appeared in a video for the first time since their capture, pleading with President-elect Donald Trump to do whatever it takes to negotiate their release, adding that if nothing happens, “we will be killed.”

Here’s what we know:

  • The video, which appeared on YouTube on Wednesday, was purportedly shot on Jan. 1. It shows American Kevin King, 60, and Australian Timothy Weeks, 48,  and is the first proof the pair are alive since they were kidnapped while leaving the campus of the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul on Aug. 7, where they both taught. The pair appear dishevelled and both break down crying during the 13-minute video.
  • The men deliver a message from their kidnappers to the U.S. and Australian governments in the footage. Its release is timed to coincide with the reopening of the university in Kabul, following an attack by Taliban fighters a few weeks after the abduction in August, which killed 13 people.
  • “Donald Trump, sir, I ask you, please. This is in your hands. I ask you please to negotiate with the Taliban. If you do not negotiate with them, we will be killed,” Weeks says in the video. King asks that the U.S. government work towards securing a prisoner swap, with Taliban prisoners from Bagram Prison being released in exchange for King and Weeks.
  • The U.S. State Department said it could not confirm the authenticity of the video, and would not comment further, citing privacy concerns, while Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it was working closely with other governments to secure the release of an Australian man kidnapped in Afghanistan in August 2016.
  • In September, officials revealed that a U.S. special operations force from SEAL Team 6 had attempted to rescue the two teachers, but the captives had been moved from the target location just hours before the raid. Seven Taliban soldiers were killed in the operation.
  • The New York Times, quoting American officials, reports that the two professors are being held by the Haqqani network, a wing of the Taliban long associated with profiting from kidnapping.
  • The Haqqani network is the same group that kidnapped U.S. soldier Sergeant Bowe Berghdal and successfully arranged his exchange in 2014 for five Taliban prisoners held by the U.S. at Guantánamo Bay.
  • The same group are believed to be behind the capture of Canadian Joshua Boyle and his American partner Caitlan Coleman, who were kidnapped in 2012. Last month a video was released showing the pair and two children apparently born in captivity, in which they described their situation as a “Kafkaesque nightmare.”

The kidnapping of King and Weeks in August took place at the same time that Australian aid worker Kerry Jane Wilson was released from four months in captivity by the Taliban. In November, another Australian aid worker was abducted and her whereabouts are still not publicly known. Just this month Jane Larson, a Massachusetts resident, revealed that her husband Paul Overby had been abducted two years ago after traveling to Afghanistan to interview the head of Haqqani network for a book he was writing. His whereabouts are unknown.

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