SHAWAL, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistan’s Taliban have claimed responsibility for kidnapping a Swiss couple this month, saying they could be freed in exchange for a Pakistani woman serving a jail term in the United States for shooting FBI agents and U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
The couple was abducted on July 1 near Loralai district in southwestern Baluchistan province on the border with Iran and Afghanistan.
Deputy Pakistani Taliban leader Wali-ur-Rehman said his group was holding the couple but had not tortured them.
He accused the United States of torturing Aafia Siddiqui, a 38-year-old neuroscientist who was sentenced to 86 years in jail by a U.S. judge last September after she was convicted of shooting at FBI agents and soldiers following her arrest in Afghanistan.
Rehman demanded the release of Siddiqui in exchange for the Swiss couple.
“If America does not release Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, then the fate of the couple will be decided by our Sharia court,” Rehman told a group of Pakistani journalists on Thursday in Shawal town, that lies between North and South Waziristan region in the northwest bordering Afghanistan.
“We will then take extreme action accordingly,” he said, without elaborating.
Siddiqui’s conviction was widely criticised in Pakistan, where many believe she is innocent and that she was mistreated when jailed in Afghanistan and later in the United States.
Anti-U.S. sentiment runs high in Pakistan and already prickly ties between Pakistan and the United States hit a low point after the May 2 killing of Osama bin Laden in an attack which Pakistan termed a breach of its sovereignty.
Rehman and many fighters are believed to have fled to North Waziristan after the Pakistani army launched a major offensive against them in South Waziristan.
The United States has been pressing Pakistan to extend its offensive in North Waziristan, which is also a major sanctuary for Afghan Taliban groups fighting U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan. But Pakistan is reluctant to do so, saying its forces are overstretched.
Rehman reiterated the Taliban threat to attack Western targets in the world to avenge the killing of the al Qaeda chief by U.S. forces in a secret raid in Pakistan in May.
“Our activities will continue in Israel, America and the European countries and Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP) is capable of hitting targets anywhere in the world,” Rehman said.
The TTP has, however, not demonstrated an ability to stage sophisticated attacks in the West.
The United States added the TTP to its list of foreign terrorist organisations.
Rehman also threatened to carry out more attacks in Pakistan like the one on a main naval base in Pakistan’s biggest city of Karachi in May this year.
“We have more than 1,000 fidayeen (suicide attackers) who are ready for organised attacks.”
The militant attack on the Mehran Base, only 24 km (15 miles) away from a suspected Pakistan nuclear weapons storage, raised doubts about Pakistan’s ability to protect its nuclear arsenal.
Rehman said his group had the ability but could not think of taking over the country’s nuclear installations.
Writing by Augustine Anthony; Editing by Zeeshan Haider and Sugita Katyal