About 20 South Korean Evangelical Christians face death after being captured by Taleban rebels in war-torn Afghanistan, where it is suspected they were preaching Christianity.
The group were travelling from the capital Kabul to the southern city of Kandahar where their church, known for its evangelical zeal, claimed they would work in a hospital.
The kidnappings took place on Thursday afternoon in the province of Ghazni, 170km south of Kabul.
There is some dispute over the number of Koreans snatched. General Ali Shah Ahmadzai, the chief of police for Ghazni, said 23 South Koreans, including 18 women, were kidnapped. The Taleban claimed they held only 21, of whom 18 were women.
Korea’s foreign ministry put the number at about 20. “The government plans to exert every possible effort so that our kidnapped Koreans can return safely as soon as possible,” said a spokesman.
It is believed the Koreans are members of the Saemul church in Budang, just south of the capital Seoul. A church official confirmed that 20 of its members were in Afghanistan and they could not be reached.
“They are young Korean Christians who were engaged in short-term evangelistic activity and service for children in Kandahar,” said Joseph Park, mission director of the Christian Council of Korea.