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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » February 18, 2009
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Geologist Beheaded in Pakistan
February 18, 2009   
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The brutal murder of Piotr Stańczak, a Polish geologist kidnapped in Pakistan last September, by his Taliban captors has unleashed a debate in Poland over whether enough was done to try to save him.

Stańczak, 42, was for two decades a member of the technical staff of Geofizyka Kraków, a company exploring natural resources in Pakistan. He is the first foreign hostage to be killed by the local Taliban since the death of American reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002.

Stańczak's fate hung on a thread until the last moment. The kidnappers, who initially demanded that 50 Taliban members be released from Pakistani prisons, gradually lowered their demand to four and prolonged their ultimatum several times. When yet another ultimatum expired on Feb. 7 or 8, they beheaded the Pole and filmed the gruesome spectacle on video. The seven-minute recording was first sent to a local office of the Reuters news agency and then to the Polish diplomatic mission.

The video shows Stańczak reciting, in English, accusations that the Pakistani government did nothing to free him and urging Poland to withdraw its military contingent from Afghanistan. Then, the two men standing on either side of the shackled victim decapitate him. Polish Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski has described the video as "a shocking recording of an exceptionally brutal murder."

According to sources in the Pakistani government, the kidnappers were offered around $1.25 million in return for releasing the hostage. The Taliban refused and repeated their demands for other Taliban members to be freed and the withdrawal of Pakistani security forces from their area, near the city of Darra Adam Khel.

The brutal slaying has shocked Poland and was the subject of a special session of the government Feb. 10.

"Our services performed all operations with the greatest care," Prime Minister Donald Tusk said at a press conference following the session. "Poland did its best to prevent the tragedy." Tusk said that because of the nature of the investigation, many details must remain classified. But he added the killing may have been related to the offensive the Pakistani army has been carrying out in the region.

Tusk added that the Polish government had not been approached with any ransom demands, and no armed operation by the special Polish commando unit GROM had ever been considered. "If anyone had attempted a task like that, they would have exposed more of our citizens and our finest soldiers to the risk of death without even the slightest chance of setting the Pole free," Tusk said, in response to suggestions by some politicians that Poland should have sent the commando unit to the Afghan-Pakistani border. Some time ago, speculations spread that the Polish commandos were involved in protecting Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Tusk also said that Poland "will focus on conducting an investigation and having the perpetrators captured and tried." Earlier, Jacek Cichocki, the secretary of the Committee for Special Services who has been overseeing the case, said Polish officials knew the identities of the kidnappers. "We knew the personal details of the leaders of the group which kept the Pole captive, we knew the character of the group and we knew the command structure of the Taliban of that region," Cichocki said.

Sikorski has offered a $1 million reward for information that could help bring the murderers to justice. According to Sikorski, efforts to free Stańczak had failed because of a "series of very unfortunate circumstances."

Sikorski added that the foreign ministry had carried out its operations with determination and professionalism. "The main reason behind the failure of the ministry's mission was the fact that this time we were dealing with people who are evil in its pure form and take false honor in this kind of cruelty and use it to earn respect among people like them," Sikorski said. Among the imprisoned Taliban members the kidnappers wanted released is the man identified as directly responsible for the Pearl murder in 2002. "Every government would have a problem meeting such demands, especially in a situation of war, feeling these are people who can kill again," Sikorski added, responding to criticism in Poland that the Pakistani authorities had done too little to save Stańczak.

Another aspect of the tragedy that has further outraged both Polish and international public opinion is that the Taliban have refused to release the body of their victim, instead demanding a ransom of $2,500. There are also reports suggesting they still want their imprisoned Taliban colleagues released. A special Polish negotiator is working on the recovery of Stańczak's body together with Pakistani authorities.
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