QUETTA, Pakistan – Kidnappers threatened on Friday to kill an American employee of the United Nations within 72 hours and issued a grainy video of the blindfolded captive saying he was “sick and in trouble.”
A letter accompanying the video delivered to a Pakistani news agency said the hostage, John Solecki, would be killed unless authorities released 141 women it said were being held in Pakistan.
The video and the demands indicated that Solecki, the head of the U.N. refugee agency in Quetta, a city near the Afghan border, was alive and that his captors wanted to negotiate.
Solecki, who appeared blindfolded and with a shawl draped over his shoulders in the 20-second clip, said his message was addressed to the United Nations.
“I am not feeling well. I am sick and in trouble. Please help solve the problem soon so that I can gain my release,” he said.
The kidnappers have identified themselves as the Baluchistan Liberation United Front, suggesting a link to local separatists who have waged a long insurgency against Pakistan’s government rather than to the Taliban or al-Qaida, which are fighting U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Still, the death threat heightened fears for Solecki’s safety, coming just a week after Taliban militants apparently beheaded a Polish geologist abducted in another border area of Pakistan after the government failed to respond to demands for a prisoner release.
The Pole’s slaying, if confirmed, would be the first killing of a Western hostage in Pakistan since American journalist Daniel Pearl was beheaded in 2002.
Gunmen seized Solecki on Feb. 2, after shooting his driver to death as they drove to work in Quetta.
Days later, the previously unknown Baluchistan Liberation United Front claimed responsibility for the kidnapping in a telephone call to the Quetta office of Online International News Network, a Pakistan-based news agency.
Online said it received an anonymous telephone call Friday telling it to collect a parcel from the post office, in which it found a memory card from a mobile phone containing the video of Solecki as well as the letter.
Maki Shinohara, a spokeswoman for the United Nations, said it had not been able to establish contact with the kidnappers. She said officials were scrambling to work out how to respond to the threat and the demands.