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Afghan Taliban Statement Puts American Author's Whereabouts in Question

Paul Overby and Jane Larson
Paul Overby and Jane Larson

WASHINGTON -- The Taliban in Afghanistan on February 28 denied holding an American writer who went missing on a research trip in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region more than two years ago, leaving his whereabouts in question.

"Our mujahedin have no activities in Waziristan, and thus they have no involvement in the arrest of the missing American," a Taliban statement said in response to an appeal by the man's wife, Jane Larson, who spoke to Radio Liberty last week.

Paul Overby, 74, last had contact with his wife on May 17, 2014, after leaving the Khost region of Afghanistan. Larson last month appealed for his release to Pakistani media, revealing for the first time that the family thought he had been abducted.

Haqqani Interview Sought

Overby, author of Holy Blood: An Inside View of the Afghan War, was hoping to interview Sirajuddin Haqqani, head of the Taliban-allied Haqqani militant network. He reportedly left Khost Province for North Waziristan in Pakistan's volatile tribal region.

Larson said her husband was being held hostage by the Haqqani network, which the United States has declared a foreign terrorist organization. The Taliban statement said the Haqqani group was part of the Taliban organization.

She told Radio Liberty that Paul was working on a new book about the Afghan war. He traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan in March 2014. Before heading to Waziristan, she said, Paul spent a month in Kabul.

According to Larson, Overby crossed into Waziristan from Khost shortly after the Pakistani Army launched operations against militant groups in the region, when he "was taken."

The Taliban said on February 28 they were not aware of Overby's whereabouts and did not know what had happened to him.

"We have previously informed his family through personal channels that we are not holding their family members," the statement read. "We, once again, clearly announce that the American national Paul Overby has neither been detained by our mujahedin, nor is being held by us, and we are not aware of his whereabouts."

Westerners Held

The Haqqani network is holding several Western nationals, including two faculty members of American University who were abducted from Kabul last year.

The Taliban recently released a Haqqani network video of American Caitlan Coleman and her Canadian husband, Joshua Boyle, who were abducted in 2012 while on a backpacking trip. The video also showed two sons born to the couple while in captivity.

Larson made a personal appeal last week to Sirajuddin Haqqani's mother to help return her husband, hoping that the terrorist's mother would have mercy on her situation and ask her son to let Paul send her letters through the Red Cross.