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Kidnapped Swiss couple escapes from Pakistan Taliban

Farooq Naeem / AFP - Getty Images

Swiss couple Olivier David Och and Daniela Widmer wave upon their arrival at the Qasim base in Rawalpindi on March 15, 2012. A Swiss couple held captive by the Pakistani Taliban for more than eight months were recovered safely, claiming they escaped their captors in the lawless tribal belt.

A Swiss couple kidnapped by the Pakistani Taliban last July has escaped and will return home soon, the Swiss foreign ministry said on Thursday after the two reached a military checkpoint near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.

Olivier David Och, 31, and Daniela Widmer, 29, were kidnapped in Pakistan's southwestern province of Baluchistan and had been held by the Taliban in the North Waziristan region.

"A few minutes ago I was able to speak to Daniela and David, and yes, they are free. They are in a safe place," Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter told a news conference. "Daniela and David said they managed to escape this morning."

He denied Switzerland had paid to secure the couple's freedom: "Switzerland does not pay ransoms, and Switzerland did not pay a ransom."

According to Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung (link in German), a Pakistani intelligence official who wished to remain anonymous said the Swiss government did in fact pay a ransom. He told the paper the Pakistani government had also released prisoners in the exchange, but it was not clear how many.

A spokesman for the Pakistan Taliban, Ihsanullah Ihsan, said the group released the couple after a council of elders was convened, CNN reported.

Swiss authorities declined to give the full names of the pair, who were named by Pakistani media.

Pakistan Army spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas told Reuters the pair had reported to a checkpoint and were then questioned in Peshawar. Abbas refused to refused to say whether a ransom was paid for the couple's release, or if other demands kidnappers were met, NZZ reported.

According to intelligence sources in North Waziristan, the two were found at a military checkpoint on a main road in Miranshah, the region's main town, at about 5:30 a.m. and were then sent to the city of Peshawar by helicopter.

The Swiss foreign ministry said in a statement the couple would return to Switzerland as soon as possible.

Pakistan's Taliban had claimed responsibility for kidnapping the couple, who were seized in the Loralai district of Baluchistan on July 1. The two were traveling in their Volkswagen bus from India to Iran.

The pair pleaded for their lives in two videos released in October. In one video, Och addressed the Pakistani, Swiss and American governments in English, asking them to release Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist imprisoned in the United States, and Taliban fighters in Pakistan's custody. The Taliban also demanded millions of dollars in ransom from the Swiss government.

Kidnapping for ransom is relatively common in Pakistan, and although foreigners are not often targets, militants occasionally take foreigners hostage.

Two Western aid workers were kidnapped by gunmen in the central Pakistani city of Multan on Jan. 19. A British doctor working with the International Committee of the Red Cross was kidnapped in the southwestern city of Quetta on Jan. 5.

Warren Weinstein, an American aid worker, was kidnapped in the central Pakistani city of Lahore in August last year. Al-Qaida claimed responsibility for Weinstein's abduction in December.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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