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Afghan Taliban say seize foreigners from helicopter

Source: Reuters - Mon, 22 Apr 2013 16:42 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Helicopter made emergency landing in bad weather

* Widely different account of nationalities

* Taliban says passengers armed Americans, others say Turks (Edits, adds Russian Foreign Ministry statement)

KABUL, April 22 (Reuters) - The Taliban said it had captured a group of foreigners on board a helicopter that came down in a volatile region of Afghanistan, though there were widely differing accounts of the nationalities of the passengers.

The helicopter had to make an emergency landing in the eastern Logar province late on Sunday because of bad weather, a member of staff from its owner Khorasan Cargo Airlines said on condition of anonymity.

"Mujahideen immediately surrounded the chopper, detained (the) foreigners aboard and completely destroyed the helicopter ... by setting it alight," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in an emailed statement on Monday.

He said nine Americans wearing military uniforms and two translators were inside, though statements about security incidents from the militant group often prove to be inaccurate.

Foreign officials gave a different account, saying most if not all of the passengers on the Russian-made Mi-8 helicopter were Turkish and at least one of the pilots was Russian.

Turkey's foreign ministry said the aircraft was carrying eight Turks and two pilots, a Russian and an Afghan.

"We believe they are in good health and Turkish officials are in contact with Afghan officials over the issue," said Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Levent Gumrukcu.

Russia's foreign ministry said the second pilot was from Kyrgyzstan and an Afghan was among the passengers.

Helicopter crashes and "hard landings" occur relatively frequently in mountainous Afghanistan.

In August 2011, 30 U.S. special forces soldiers, seven Afghans and an interpreter were killed when a Chinook transport helicopter was shot down, the deadliest single incident for foreign troops in more than a decade of war.

The website of Afghanistan-based Khorasan says it transports troops, civilians and cargo. (Reporting by Mirwais Harooni and Samiullah Paiwand; Writing by Dylan Welch; Editing by Nick Macfie and Andrew Heavens)

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