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French Aid Worker Kidnapped In Afghanistan

Gunmen kidnapped a French aid worker off a neighborhood street Monday and killed an intelligence agency employee who tried to stop the abduction, police said, latest in a series of attacks against Westerners in the Afghan capital.

Three assailants in a red Corolla tried to kidnap two French citizens riding in a small van in Kabul, but after a scuffle they got away with only one, said Mohammad Daud Amin, a police commander in the neighborhood where the abduction took place.

"A resident tried to prevent this kidnapping. A kidnapper opened fire and killed him. They were able to kidnap one Frenchman," Amin told The Associated Press.

The Interior Ministry identified the resident as the driver for the intelligence chief of Panjshir province.

Etienne Gille, president of AFRANE, a French aid group focusing on education, said the kidnapping took place as a member of its staff and a man from a second French aid group were being driven from a residence rented by ARFANE to its offices.

"The car was blocked by another car that was driving the wrong way," from which "an armed man emerged," Gille told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. AFRANE's employee managed to escape, while the other aid worker was taken, he said.

"There was an Afghan on the street who intervened," Gille said.

A witness, Mohammad Shafi, said the man who intervened lived in a house across from where the kidnapping occurred.

"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," Shafi said.

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.

The man's family has been informed, Gille said.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said Taliban militants were not involved in the kidnapping.

The abduction adds to the increasing anxiety felt by the international community in Kabul, which has experienced a rise in abductions and targeted shootings of foreigners in recent weeks.

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. The Taliban also kidnap Westerners and Afghans, but those abductions typically take place in rural provinces.

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, one 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 was killed by Taliban gunmen while walking on the street. 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 a large Afghan bank. The two were rescued by Afghan intelligence officials.

Gille said Monday's kidnapping was the first apparently deliberate security incident the group has had in Afghanistan.

He said the group was considering how best to respond to the kidnapping, in consultation with its three French volunteers in the country.

"We are obliged to think about the situation of the current volunteers," he said. "We will maintain some kind of presence in Afghanistan but obviously we are forced to think about the current parameters of our presence."

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