WASHINGTON In a mounting crisis in Afghanistan, two South Korean Christians have been executed by the Taliban, who took 23 Korean aid workers hostage July 19.
The Taliban executed the group's leader, Bae Hyung Kyu, on July 25 and another male, identified by the Taliban as Sung Sin, on July 30 over the Afghanistan government's refusal to meet demands, which reportedly have called for the release of Taliban prisoners, ransom payments and withdrawal of 200 South Korean troops in Afghanistan.
"We shot dead a male captive because the government did not listen to our demands," a Taliban spokesman identified as Qari Mohammad Yousuf said July 30 by telephone, according to the Reuters news service.
"We set several deadlines," a Taliban spokesman identified as Yousuf Ahmadi said, also by telephone, according to the Agence France-Press news service (AFP), "and the Afghan government did not pay attention to our deadlines. Finally tonight at 8:30 we killed one of the Koreans named Sung Sin with AK-47 gunshots."
Bae Hyung Kyu, the Taliban's first victim, was a minister who turned 42 on the day he was killed, reportedly by 10 bullet wounds. Bae leaves behind a wife and 9-year-old daughter, Compass Direct news service reported.
Bae worked with unmarried university graduates, helping prepare them for volunteer trips for aid work in developing countries, according to Compass, a persecution watchdog organization based in Santa Ana, Calif.
A close friend of Bae told Compass that Bae had led the group to begin visiting eight countries a year, preparing for their travels by weekly cultural and basic language training. They initially traveled to Afghanistan in 2005 to work at orphanages and hospitals, Compass reported.
Reports vary as to the affiliation of the Korean captives. Compass said the Koreans were from the Sammul Presbyterian Church in Bundang, South Korea. International Christian Concern, another persecution watchdog group based in Washington, said the Koreans are from the Saem-Mul Protestant Community Church near Seoul.
Reuters reported that the Korean group has 18 women; AFP, 16.
The Korean believers were traveling on a charter bus from Kandahar to the capital, Kabul, when armed men stopped them in the Ghazni province's Qarabagh district, according to International Christian Concern. The volunteers had arrived in Afghanistan on July 13 and were scheduled to return home July 23.
Before the executions, a man who claimed to speak for the Taliban said "a few" of the hostages would be killed because the Afghan government hadn't responded to any of their demands, according to the Associated Press. The initial deadline for the threat passed without any word of the hostages' fate. Negotiations for their release were being conducted through tribal elders in the area, Reuters reported. A group of 150 people Afghan villagers in the Ghazni province demonstrated July 24 for the hostages' safe release.
Jeremy Sewall, an analyst for International Christian Concern, likened the incident to the 2001 kidnapping of American missionaries Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry, who were held by the Taliban for three months. "It was in the very same area of Afghanistan that these two kidnappings happened," Sewell said in a July 20 news release. "While Mercer and Curry's story ended happily, it was only because anti-Taliban forces attacked the prison.
"Under the Taliban, it is absolutely illegal to preach Christianity. This courageous South Korean missions team is going to experience the ultimate test of their faith. I want to make an urgent appeal to all concerned parties to pray for this missions team. Pray that God would do a miracle and permit them to be released without the use of force."
Compass, in a July 30 news report, recounted that one of the kidnapped women told a U.S. television station over the telephone: "All of us are sick and in very bad condition." Reuters, however, quoted Afghan Deputy Interior Minister Munir Mangal as saying that the hostages were "alive and fine."
Compass, regarding the woman's identity, stated:
"Though there were conflicting reports about the woman's name, Voice of America identified the speaker as Lim Hyun-joo.
"According to members of her church in Korea, who spelled her name 'Lin,' she was one of three [Korean] women doing aid work permanently in northern Afghanistan who had agreed to help translate for the visiting volunteers.
"Lin worked as a nurse in a public health center while the two other translators taught health education to Afghans in the city of Mazar e Sharif. The volunteers from [the Korean church] had spent three days helping the women with their work before traveling together back to Kabul, and then went on to Kandahar by bus when no flights were available.
"The group had planned to spend several days volunteering at a hospital and kindergarten in Kandahar, where a single Korean woman teacher and two doctors, a husband and wife, from their church also were residing permanently."
"The people in that city love them," Compass quoted a member of the Korean church as saying. "In Kandahar, they treat up to 150 patients a day."
Compass said the three aid workers in northern Afghanistan previously had received threats from the Taliban but they were not believed to be the target of the July 19 kidnapping of the 23 Koreans.
Compass also reported: "Korean media as well as some members of the international community in Kabul have criticized the group for being naive and entering the country ill-prepared."
But Bae's friend told Compass, "They were well prepared for the trip. In a country where there is war, when things get hard, everyone leaves. If we leave the country, who will stay to help the people?"
Despite Bae's death, a church worker in Korea said Christians must continue to help majority-Muslim nations, showing them the love of Christ through aid work, Compass reported.
"Despite this incident, we do not wish bad things upon either Afghanistan or Muslim countries," the worker told Compass. "Because they don't know about Jesus Christ, we have to share the love of Jesus Christ with them."
One church member told Compass he doubted that the volunteers' faith had anything to do with the kidnapping had anything to do with the volunteers being Christians. Compass added that church leaders and the Korean government have insisted that the group was in Afghanistan for humanitarian reasons.
Compass recounted that one Taliban military commander, Mansour Dadullah, had told Britain's Channel 4 television, "Kidnapping is a very successful policy, and I order all my mujahideen to kidnap foreigners of any nationality wherever they find them… ."
Compass reported that foreigners wishing to travel outside Kabul must submit an application to police two days in advance of the trip, according to a local Afghan contacted by the news service.
Compiled by Art Toalston, with reporting by Mark Kelly BP news.