The Taliban warned today that an American professor they took hostage last year is in failing health and, demanding a prisoner swap, insisted that they “will not be held responsible” if he dies.
Kevin King, 61, and his Australian colleague Timothy Weeks, 49, were driving near American University in Kabul on a Sunday night in August 2016 when their SUV was stopped by five gunmen dressed in Afghan military uniforms.
They are believed to be held by the Haqqani network, Taliban allies who held Caitlan Coleman and Joshua Boyle, as well as their three children born in captivity, for five years until their recent rescue. The Haqqanis also held Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl until the Taliban received five commanders from the U.S. in a 2014 prisoner swap.
In January, the Taliban released a video of a distraught King and Weeks pleading with the new U.S. president for their release. “Donald Trump, sir, I ask you, please. This is in your hands. I ask you please to negotiate with the Taliban. If you do not negotiate with them, we will be killed,” Weeks said.
The Taliban were seeking a swap for their imprisoned members at Bagram air base and the Afghan prison Pul-e-Charkhi.
In June, another video of the professors was released. “My captors treat me well. They treat me and my colleague Tim Weeks as their guests; but every prisoner’s final wish is to get freedom from the prison,” King said in the video.
A State Department official said at the time that they were “aware” of the video and continued “to call for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages.”
“Taking and holding civilian hostages is reprehensible and we condemn such actions in the strongest terms. The U.S. government is committed to seeing our citizens returned safely to their families and the department works closely with agencies across the government to do so,” the official said.
Today, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid released a statement noting King “has a dangerous heart and kidney disease.”
“We have periodically tried to treat and care for him but since we are facing war conditions and do not readily have access to health facilities therefore we are unable to deliver complete treatment,” Mujahid said. “The condition of the said teacher has exponentially worsened, his feet have begun swelling, he frequently losses consciousness and his health is deteriorating rapidly.”
“Since the American side does not care about the life and death of its nationals hence we are warning them to accept the demands of the Islamic Emirate presented for the freedom of these two detainees and secure their release,” he added.
“However if they insist on delaying this matter and the illness of Kevin King becomes incurable or he loses his life, the Islamic Emirate will not be held responsible due to the fact that the opposition does not want to bring an end to the issue at hand and does not consider the life of its nationals important.”
The Taliban did not include proof of life with the message.
American University of Afghanistan issued a statement saying the school is “deeply saddened and disturbed to receive the news about the deteriorating health condition” of King.
“They came to Afghanistan to teach Afghan youth and contribute to building a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan. The are innocent civilians and have done no harm to anyone. It is apparent that Mr. King’s health is deteriorating and the Taliban have admitted they cannot care for him,” the statement continued. “Harming and imprisoning non-combatants, the ill and the elderly are contrary to the injunctions of Islam, Afghan traditions and humanitarian principles. We strongly urge the Taliban to immediately release Mr. King and Mr. Weeks unharmed.”