Freed American aid worker leaves Pakistan

Published 12:44 am Monday, April 6, 2009

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — The family of a New Jersey man abducted more than two months ago while working for the United Nations in Pakistan is eagerly awaiting his return, following news that his captors freed him this weekend.

John Solecki, 49, was found Saturday evening near the Afghan border in western Pakistan unharmed, but with his hands and feet bound. The owner of a restaurant alongside the main Quetta-Karachi highway in Pakistan said he found Solecki lying in the dirt near a wall and pleading ‘‘Help me, help me.’’

Solecki’s mother said by telephone from her South Orange home on Sunday, ‘‘We’re happy, it’s wonderful news.’’ She added the family wasn’t sure when their son would be arriving in New Jersey but added, ‘‘we hope it’s soon.’’

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Jennifer Pagonis, a spokeswoman for the agency Solecki works for, The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said Solecki left Pakistan on a special medical flight early Sunday morning after spending the night in a military hospital in Quetta.

UNHCR officials said that besides being treated for an ongoing medical condition, which they would not disclose, Solecki was tired from his ordeal but in decent health.

Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Solecki would fly to Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan and then continue on to the United States.

Solecki, who has worked for UNHCR since 1991, was heading up the agency’s refugee operations in Quetta when he was abducted Feb. 2 in an ambush that killed his driver.

A previously unknown group, the Baluchistan Liberation United Front, had claimed responsibility for the abduction, threatening to behead him and issuing a grainy video on Feb. 13 of a blindfolded Solecki pleading for help. They renewed the threats in March, demanding the release of hundreds of people from alleged detention by Pakistani security agencies.

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad said the U.S. government welcomed Solecki’s release and thanked Pakistani government officials and law enforcement for their help with the case.

U.N. officials declined to say when Solecki would arrive in the U.S., but said he had told them he was looking forward to reuniting with his family, who he has spoken to several times by telephone since his release.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was grateful for the efforts to secure Solecki’s release. Antonio Guterres, Ban’s high commissioner for refugees, also expressed relief and gratitude for his release.

Solecki, a Demarest native, graduated from Northern Valley Regional High School before earning degrees from Columbia University and its graduate school of international relations.