Two Swiss tourists have been found safe and well after an eight-month ordeal as hostages of the Pakistani Taliban.
Olivier David Och, 31, and Daniela Widmer, 28, were driving from India to Switzerland when they were snatched at gunpoint in Baluchistan, scene of a long-running insurgency and an area known for kidnappings.
At about 3am on Friday, they presented themselves at a military checkpoint in North Waziristan, a Taliban and al-Qaeda stronghold, amid conflicting accounts about whether they escaped or were released in exchange for a ransom.
Major general Athar Abbas, spokesman for the Pakistan army, said the couple were in good health.
“They were brought to Peshawar and there they told security personnel that they had managed to escape,” he said.
However, that account was contradicted by a Taliban spokesman. Tariq Afridi said a shura – or council – had met to decide the fate of the couple.
The confusion will fuel suspicion that a deal was done for their release.
Last week, a video released by the Taliban showed another captive, Ajmal Khan, vice-chancellor of a university in Peshawar, claiming the Swiss hostages were about to be released in return for 100 prisoners and a substantial payment.
Kidnappings have surged in recent months as the Taliban tries to bolster its coffers with ransom.
Earlier this year, Khalil Dale, a British employee of the International Committee of the Red Cross, was abducted in Quetta, capital of Baluchistan.
The region is generally avoided by Westerners and tourists are rare.
However, on July 1 last year a blue Volkswagen van was found abandoned in Loralai district, around 100 miles east of Quetta, sparking a massive hunt for the missing Swiss couple.
In October, a video emerged showing the pair – apparently in relatively good health – flanked by four masked gunmen pointing rifles at their heads.