August 18, 1996 in Nation/World

Russian Hostages Held For Year Fly Away Air Crew Escapes From Afghanistan, Brings Ex-Captors

Associated Press
 

A seven-man Russian air crew, held by rebels in Afghanistan for a year, escaped in their own plane to the United Arab Emirates. Officials said they brought three of their former captors with them.

The crew escaped Friday under the pretense of carrying out regular maintenance work on their IL-76 cargo plane in the southern Afghan town of Kandahar.

Once on the plane, the crew overpowered three guards from Afghanistan’s Taliban movement, a hard-line Islamic guerrilla group that had been holding them hostage since last August, said an official from Trans Avia, the U.A.E.-based company that had leased the cargo plane.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Russian crew had been questioned and released by police in the U.A.E., while the three Taliban guards remained in custody. The fate of the guerrillas was not immediately clear.

The Russian crew will be taken home aboard a special flight from Russia due to arrive today in the emirate of Sharjah, near Dubai, Russia’s ITAR-Tass news agency reported. It said Russia’s deputy prime minister, Vitaly Ignatenko, and a team of medics would be aboard the flight.

At the time of their capture, the pilots were working for Aerostan, an airline based in the Russian republic of Tatarstan. The plane was on lease to Trans Avia.

Russian officials had conducted unsuccessful negotiations in a bid to win the release of the crew members from the Taliban, which is battling the Afghan government forces in the capital of Kabul.

The Taliban forced the plane to land, saying it was headed for Kabul and was carrying ammunition destined for Afghan government forces. The plane was chartered by the Afghan government.

The rebel movement held the seven men in the isolated town of Kandahar, a Taliban stronghold. For the first few weeks of their captivity the crew was confined to the aircraft. The Taliban later kept them in a house in Kandahar.

© Copyright 1996 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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