Three foreign election workers have been kidnapped in the Afghan capital, Kabul. The incident comes as officials prepare to announce the results of the Afghan presidential election.
The spokesman for the United Nations' mission in Afghanistan, Manoel de Almeida e Silva, says police have launched an investigation into the Thursday kidnapping of the three foreign election workers.
"At about lunchtime today, three of the international electoral secretariat colleagues were abducted here in the city of Kabul, and the police are very much active on the case," said Manoel de Almeida e Silva.
He did not confirm the nationalities of the abductees. Various reports have identified them as two women from Ireland and the Balkans, and a man possibly from the Philippines.
Afghan security and foreign diplomatic sources say the group was abducted while traveling in a United Nations vehicle in the west of the Afghan capital.
They say unknown assailants in a second vehicle forced the U.N. car to stop, and took the three captive at gunpoint.
A short while later, Al-Jazeera Television reported that a group calling itself the Army of Muslims had claimed responsibility for the abduction. There was no confirmation of this, and no immediate indication of what the kidnappers wanted.
The kidnapping comes as the country's joint Afghan-U.N. election commission winds up its investigation into possible election fraud during the October 9th vote for president.
More than 99 percent of the ballots have now been counted, with transitional President Hamid Karzai the apparent winner. But the commission says it will not certify the results until its investigation is over.
Election commission Vice Chairman Ray Kennedy said Thursday that many of the 163 ballot boxes quarantined by the commission would likely be invalidated due to evidence of vote stuffing.
"The regional coordinators are experienced election professionals and they would know a stuffed ballot box when they see it," he said. "And from what we've seen, they certainly appear to be stuffed."
He says some of the sealed boxed had ballots already neatly stacked inside, indicating tampering.
But he says the number of ballots involved represents no more than one percent of the vote, and will therefore not affect the results of the election.
He says the investigation of the ballot boxes and other allegations, including voter intimidation, will conclude in the coming days, and that final results should be announced within a week.