Indian aid worker kidnapped in Afghanistan: Officials

HERAT, Afghanistan (AFP) - An Indian aid worker was Monday abducted by unidentified gunmen in Afghanistan's western Herat province, local officials and India's Foreign Ministry said.

Mr Sayed Fazlullah Wahidy, governor of Herat province, said the aid worker was kidnapped in the afternoon, adding "police have started the search operation for him".

India's Foreign Ministry confirmed the incident, with spokesman Syed Akbaruddin posting on Twitter: "Indian national working with an NGO (non-profit group) in Herat province of Afghanistan has been kidnapped."

The Indian mission was "pursuing the matter with local authorities", he added.

The charity, Jesuit Refugee Service, said in an e-mail message to AFP that Mr Prem Kumar was abducted while he was visiting a school in Sohadat village of Herat province.

"He was abducted as he was about to return," Mr James Stapleton, the international communications coordinator of the Catholic organisation, said.

Mr Kumar had been working in Afghanistan for the past four years, and held the post of country director.

The kidnapping comes close on the heels of an attack on the Indian consulate in Herat on May 23 by four heavily armed gunmen who were later repelled by security forces.

The consulate assault was the latest in a long line of attacks against Indian targets in Afghanistan.

Nine civilians, including seven children, were killed in August last year when suicide bombers targeted the Indian consulate in the main eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, detonating an explosives-packed car.

In 2008, a car bomb at the Indian embassy in Kabul killed 60 people, and the embassy was again hit by a suicide strike in 2009. And, in 2010, two guesthouses in Kabul used by Indians were attacked.

India was one of the chief enemies of the hardline Taleban regime which ruled Afghanistan before its ouster in the wake of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Pakistan was the Taleban's main ally, and there have been accusations in India that the Pakistani security forces were complicit in previous attacks on its missions in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is due for a run-off presidential election on June 14.