QUETTA, Pakistan — Unidentified gunmen have kidnapped a British employee of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Pakistan's insurgency-hit southwestern province of Baluchistan.
The ICRC said its health programme manager Khalil Rasjed Dale was seized around lunchtime Thursday in Quetta, the main town of the province, which borders both Iran and Afghanistan.
Violence in Baluchistan has surged in recent years, and it has seen a number of abductions of Westerners, including the local head of the UN refugee agency in 2009 and two Swiss tourists last year.
The ICRC said Dale was taken as he returned home from work but police, quoting witnesses, said he was abducted in front of his office by eight masked gunmen who were lying in wait for him.
One opened the door of Dale's Land Cruiser and kidnapped him at gunpoint, police said.
"The moment Dale reached in front of his office, unknown gunmen riding a Land Cruiser picked him and took him away," Nazir Kurd, a senior police official in Quetta told AFP.
Kurd said Dale -- initially named by police as Khalil Ahmad Dale -- is a British Muslim and has been working in Quetta for a year.
The ICRC office is in a high security neighbourhood along with offices of other international organisations.
A statement from the humanitarian organisation called for Dale's "swift and unconditional release" and said it had no information about the identities or motives of his captors.
ICRC spokesman Christian Cardon told AFP in Geneva that Dale was abducted by armed men as he headed for his house after work, according to local witnesses.
The ICRC announced a reduction of its activities in Pakistan this week, with the closure of three of its centres in the northwest, but after Dale's abduction vowed to continue its work in the troubled country.
Elsewhere in Pakistan on Thursday, the bullet-scarred bodies of 15 members of the paramilitary Frontier Constabulary were found, almost two weeks after they were kidnapped from a town in the militant-infested northwest.
Tehreek-e-Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan claimed responsibility for the killings, telling AFP: "We have taken revenge for continued operations of security forces against us. They are in fact fighting for Americans."
Separately, police in Pakistan's southern port city of Karachi Thursday arrested four militants of Tehreek-e-Taliban including a senior Taliban operative.
"We have arrested four Taliban operatives including Abdul Qayoom Mehsud, who was a guard of former Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud," senior police official Ghulam Shabbir Shaikh told AFP.
Police said they were planning to target high profile personalities and sensitive installations. A suicide vest, a missile, two rockets and ammunition were recovered from them.
Baitullah Mehsud, former head of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, was killed in a US drone strike in August 2009. US and Pakistani officials had named him as the main suspect in the 2007 assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
Kidnappings are a plague in parts of Baluchistan and northwest Pakistan, where criminals looking for ransom snatch foreigners and locals, sometimes passing their hostages on to Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked groups.
A senior ICRC official, quoted by Pakistan media, said his organisation was facing problems in Quetta, but gave no further details.
Rebels rose up in Baluchistan in 2004 to demand political autonomy and a greater share of profits from the region's natural oil, gas and mineral resources.
In 2009, John Solecki, the local head of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), was snatched at gunpoint in Quetta on February 2. His driver was killed during the abduction. He was released after nearly nine weeks.
Last year, Warren Weinstein, 70, country director for US-based consultancy J.E. Austin Associates, was snatched after gunmen tricked their way into his home in Lahore on August 13, days before he was due to return to the United States.
Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri claimed responsibility and demanded that Washington end air strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, and release the 1993 World Trade Center bombers and relatives of Osama bin Laden.
A Swiss couple, Olivier David Och, 31, and Daniela Widmer, 28, were kidnapped in July last year while travelling in Baluchistan's Loralai district, 170 kilometres (100 miles) east of Quetta.
The Taliban later claimed the abduction, saying they had been moved to Pakistan's tribal belt on the Afghan border, a notorious haven for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Both Weinstein and the Swiss pair are still being held.
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