Taliban captures at least 9, many from Turkey, from crashed helicopter in Afghanistan

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KABUL, Afghanistan A Turkish civilian helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing in a Taliban-controlled area of eastern Afghanistan, and insurgents took all those aboard the aircraft hostage, including at least seven Turks, officials said Monday.

The transport helicopter landed in strong winds and heavy rain on Sunday in a village in the Azra district of Logar province, southeast of Kabul and 20 miles from the Pakistan border, said district governor Hamidullah Hamid.

Taliban fighters then captured at least nine people who were aboard the helicopter and took them from the area, Hamid told The Associated Press. He said most of the civilian hostages were Turks but that one is an Afghan translator.

An official from Khorasan Cargo Airline, which operated the helicopter, told CBS News Kabul bureau chief Mukhtar Ahmad that seven Turks, two Russians and one Afghan national were on the aircraft when it went down in bad weather in Azra.

In Ankara, a spokesman at Turkey's Foreign Ministry told the AP that there were eight Turks aboard the helicopter but did not know if it also was carrying other civilians or what their nationalities were. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with ministry regulations, had no information about the condition of the civilians. It was not immediately possible to reconcile the varying accounts of nationalities or the exact number of people who had been aboard the helicopter.

Haji Khan Zaman, a local tribal elder in the area, told CBS News' Sami Yousafzai on Monday that the helicopter went down in the "late hours of Sunday, just before darkness spread" and amid heavy rain and a possible dust storm.

"The crew of the chopper was kidnapped by a group of Pakistanis and Afghan militants," said Zaman. "By chance, the Pakistani and Afghan militants were passing through the area to go to Wardak province (to the west) when they saw the chopper landing and took all injured crew and (those) onboard with them hostage."

Yousafzai noted that the kidnapping of the Turkish nationals could complicate the Turkish government's recent efforts to increase dialogue with the Afghan Taliban as part of tentative, U.S.-backed international peace talks.

Last month, the Taliban freed two Turkish engineers, who had been held by the group for two years, in exchange for Ankara agreeing to let the militant group open an office in the Turkish capital, said Yousafzai.

"The Turkish government accepted the demands of the Taliban and agreed that the Taliban can open a small office" in Turkey, a European diplomat in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad told Yousafzai.

The diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing peace efforts, said the Taliban had named an envoy to work in the new Turkey office, but added it was not yet clear whether the man, Mulvi Naik Muhammad, would remain in Ankara full-time, or "just visit."

Taliban sources in Quetta say the Taliban is keen to open the Turkish office to try and improve its relations -- and its standing -- with Western governments after opening its first foreign outpost in Qatar. While little about the international negotiations with the Taliban has been confirmed, both the Afghan and Pakistani government have pushed the efforts to establish a dialogue as the U.S. military prepares to leave Afghanistan in 2014.

An Afghan Taliban commander in eastern Afghanistan told Yousafzai the captured Turkish crew would be a "big deal and a test for the Taliban."

Other European diplomats who spoke to Yousafzai worried that the hostages might give the Taliban a powerful new bargaining chip in their talks with the Turkish government.

Taliban sources told Yousafzai that Turkey was ready to pay as much as $4 million to free the two Turkish engineers, but the Taliban opted for the deal to get an office in Turkey instead.

A Taliban commander in southern Afghanistan told Yousafzai, however, that the equation this time, with the helicopter crew, will be different.

"Now the Taliban is desperately looking and needs more money... and this is the second biggest kidnapping after 22 Koreans were taken hostage in 2007," said the commander, who spoke to Yousafzai via phone without revealing his exact location.

"God gave us unexpected cash, like throwing it from the sky," agreed a Taliban foot soldier in Logar province, where the helicopter crashed. He called the Turkish captives a "cash gift from God," suggesting the militants may seek a large ransom payment.

The fighter said he was not with the militants who took the helicopter crew and passengers captive, but that he had heard radio communications suggesting they were captured "unharmed."

Turkey's semi-official Anadolu news agency quoted Logar Deputy Police Chief Resishan Sadik Abdurrahminzey as saying that "a large number" of policemen were being sent to the region to rescue the hostages.

NATO said the helicopter went down on Sunday, but the International Security Assistance Force did not have any other details. ISAF spokeswoman Erin Stattel said the coalition was assisting in the recovery of the aircraft. She could not say whether the helicopter made a precautionary landing or the Taliban had forced it down.

Logar Deputy Police Chief Rais Khan Abdul Rahimzai said he didn't know what kind of cargo the helicopter was carrying, where it was headed, or whether it was working for NATO.

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