KABUL (Reuters) - The Taliban released a video on Sunday of a Canadian man captured this year in a volatile province of central Afghanistan and said he would be put on trial for spying unless Canada’s government accepted unspecified demands for his release.
The man was detained in Ghazni city in February by insurgents who accused him of collecting secret information, although Canada’s foreign affairs department said the 26-year-old had travelled to Afghanistan as a tourist.
Canadian authorities have said they would prefer that the man not be identified while negotiations to secure his release go on.
“The evidence and documents found in his possession had shown that he entered Afghanistan for spying purposes and was an active agent, gathering intelligence on the Taliban,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the hardline Islamists.
“The Islamic Emirate once again calls on the Canadian government to take immediate action to solve this issue or the hostage could face a court,” Mujahid said in a statement.
The Taliban released a video of the man, who appeared clean-shaven, in which he answered questions from an unseen interrogator. The man said he had travelled to Afghanistan because he has a strong interest in its history.
Asked why he had wanted to visit Afghanistan, the man said: “history and historical sights, old buildings and shrines.”
The man sat in a grey vest with his hands resting on his knees and answered questions in a calm voice throughout the video clip, which was taken in what appeared to be a room with sheets draped over the walls and with a single sidelight.
“I don’t have a religion. I guess I’d call it agnostic,” he said when asked about his religion. He also denied working for the Canadian government. Canada has been one of the longest-serving members of the NATO coalition fighting in Afghanistan.
He described himself as an auditor.
It is unclear what demands have been given to Canadian officials, if any, to secure his release. Canadian officials in Kabul referred all questions about the man and the video to foreign affairs officials in Ottawa.
Kidnapping has become a lucrative business in Afghanistan in recent years, as part of the Taliban-led insurgency but also by criminal groups with largely financial motives.
The Taliban issued a statement in February saying documents in the man’s possession had revealed “his clandestine intelligence activities”.
It is not unusual for the Taliban to exaggerate claims in incidents involving foreigners in Afghanistan.
In the past, criminal gangs and the Taliban have freed some hostages after ransoms were paid or as part of prisoner swaps, although that is not always the case.
Two French television journalists were kidnapped by the Taliban northeast of Kabul more than a year ago and are still being held. A Dutch aid worker and his Afghan driver, abducted in Afghanistan’s north last October, were freed in December.
Violence across Afghanistan in 2010 hit its worst levels since the Taliban were ousted in late 2001, despite the presence of about 150,000 foreign troops.
There has been no sign of any let-up in 2011, despite U.S. and NATO commanders saying their troops have been able to stop the Taliban’s momentum in large areas of Afghanistan.
U.S. forces are due to begin a promised gradual drawdown from July, with Washington and NATO leaders agreeing to hand security responsibility to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.
Reporting by Rob Taylor; Editing by Paul Tait