KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) – Gunmen kidnapped a burqa-clad American aid worker and her driver in southern Afghanistan's largest city early Saturday, the latest in a series of kidnappings of foreigners in the troubled country.
Cyd Mizell, who worked in Kandahar for the Asian Rural Life Development Foundation, was snatched from a residential neighborhood as she was on her way to work. Jeff Palmer, the aid group's international director, said the group had not been contacted by the kidnappers and that he did not know their identity or demands.
Asadullah Khalid, the provincial governor, blamed the kidnappings on the "enemy of Islam and the enemy of Afghanistan." Khalid said the 49-year-old American was wearing a burqa when she was seized.
Several foreigners — including 23 South Koreans, two German construction workers and two Italian journalists — have been kidnapped in Afghanistan in the last year, but kidnappings of Americans are rare. An American civilian was briefly abducted in Kabul in April 2005 but escaped by throwing himself from a moving car.
A professor at Kandahar University, Mohammad Gul, said Mizell taught English at the university and gave embroidery lessons at a girl's school.
Gul said she speaks the local language, Pashtu, well and that if Afghans asked about her background she would say she was from the Alakozai tribe — a well known Pashtun tribe in the Kandahar region.
"She is a very patient and calm woman," Gul said. "She was always thinking about Afghanistan's future."
Palmer said she has worked for ARLDF on income-generating women's projects in Kandahar for the last three years.
"It is our hope that our worker will be released safely and quickly and we are doing all that we can to resolve the situation," Palmer said. "This is a first for our organization and we're really praying for a quick resolution."
Traveling around Kandahar city has turned increasingly dangerous in the last year, as the Taliban insurgency has spread throughout southern Afghanistan. Western civilians who operate there often travel with armed guards and extreme caution. The area is rife with Taliban militants and criminals linked to the country's booming opium poppy trade.
A Taliban spokesman said he had no immediate information that the Islamic militia was behind the kidnappings.
Kidnappings for ransom are an increasing problem in Afghanistan. Dozens of Afghans have been abducted in the last year, and heavy rumors persist nationwide of foreign governments paying large ransoms to win the freedom of their citizens.
In a likely plea to the woman's captors, Khalid noted that Mizell respected Afghan traditions by wearing the burqa and speaking the local languages. She did not travel with armed guards, he said.
The Asian Rural Life Development Foundation runs food-for-work, irrigation rehabilitation, health care and restoration projects around Kandahar, according to the group's Web site. The group also has projects in Vietnam, China, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka.
Associated Press Writer Jason Straziuso contributed to this report from Kabul.