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RESPONSE TO TERROR

U.S. Man Said to Be Hostage

Afghanistan: American on aid mission is being held for ransom, family says. The identity of the captors is unknown.

January 15, 2002|ROBIN WRIGHT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — An American on a humanitarian mission in Afghanistan was taken hostage last week and is being held for $25,000 ransom, his family and the office of U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) said Monday.

Clark Russell Bowers, whose family said he played basketball for Pepperdine University and managed Rohrabacher's first run for office, in 1988, called his wife Wednesday from Afghanistan to report that he had been stopped by a group of Afghans and robbed of his belongings, including cash and a satellite phone. He said the group had taken him and an Afghan interpreter hostage until the ransom was paid, the sources said.

"The motive was strictly monetary," said a family member who asked not to be identified.

Bowers, 37, was on his second mission in Afghanistan in about two months. On both occasions, he was delivering medical supplies and other humanitarian goods collected by private individuals, his family said.

Bowers arrived early last week on a chartered plane from Istanbul, Turkey. He told his wife during a minute-long conversation that his plane, bound for the Afghan capital, Kabul, had been diverted at the last minute, so he was not sure of his location, the family member said.

He was held for a day or two before being allowed to contact his family by another satellite phone.

This is the first known case of an American taken hostage since the new Afghan government took office last month, but the abduction is part of a growing crime problem in the nation since the Taliban regime was ousted.

Bowers said he thought he was being held by tribal warlords, but he either did not know their identities or could not identify them for his family.

The State Department said Monday that it was investigating. "We are aware of the reports about the supposed hostage-taking of an American in Afghanistan. We are in touch with his wife," a spokesman in the department's consular affairs office said.

The United States is working through the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, and other agencies "to try to determine whatever we can about the individual's welfare and whereabouts," the spokesman said. Because of U.S. privacy laws, the State Department would not talk about the identity of the American or the specifics of the case.

Bowers is from Harvest, Ala. He is a self-employed political consultant who has been active in Republican politics since the Reagan administration, according to his family.

In their phone conversation, Bowers told his wife that he was being treated fairly well but that the captors had roughed up his interpreter.

Afghanistan's interim prime minister, Hamid Karzai, has pledged to restore security to Afghanistan, but without a police force or funds to pay them, vast areas of the country are lawless. Shakedowns on roadsides are an increasingly common problem, while bribes have become a part of daily life, particularly for foreigners.

A Swedish television cameraman was a victim of Afghanistan's lawlessness in late November when thieves broke into his house and shot him dead. Since the war began Oct. 7, seven other journalists have been killed.

During the Taliban's rule, several journalists were held after they sneaked into the country. Eight Christian aid workers, including two Americans, were arrested on charges of proselytizing but were rescued as the Taliban government collapsed.

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Times researcher Robin Cochran in Washington contributed to this report.

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