An Australian woman kidnapped in Afghanistan had devoted the past 20 years to improving the plight of women in the war-devastated country.
Kerry Wilson, 60, was abducted at gunpoint from her office at 5am local time on Thursday.
It is believed her kidnappers were dressed as Afghan intelligence officers and talked their way into her Jalalabad compound.
Ms Wilson is the director of Zardozi, an Afghan non-governmental organisation she co-founded, which helps women start small businesses selling handicrafts and clothing to shopkeepers and traders.
It is not yet known who the kidnappers are, with local criminal gangs just as likely to abduct humanitarian aid workers for financial gain as Islamic militants.
Ms Wilson’s Perth-based father Brian, aged 91, has made an emotional plea for her return saying he is extremely worried for his daughter.
“Do your level best, come back safe and sound,” he told ABC radio.
“But I presume she’s a hostage and that they’ll do their best to keep her alive and not harm her, simply because they want to have something or other in return and it’s not very good having a dead hostage.”
For more than a decade, Ms Wilson has run Zardozi, which supports almost 3000 Afghani women in their own businesses who in turn employ a further 4000 women across the country.
However she has worked in Bangladesh and for other aid organisations helping refugees.
She started working in Afghanistan in 1996, the same year the Taliban seized control of the country, imposing strict Sharia law including bans on women working or being educated and even leaving their homes without male escorts.
She posted on Facebook last year about the work she was doing: “We are working with Afghanistan’s brave women – make today special by supporting our efforts to help them help themselves through this crowd funding site.”
Zardozi’s chairman, Dominic d’Angelo, said kidnappings were a regular occurrence in Jalalabad.
“The challenge is to distinguish between people who are in those (Islamic terrorist) groups and people who simply claim to be from those groups,” he told Fairfax Media.
“There’s quite a lot of disinformation that goes floating around … as a sort of pressure point whereas they could just be your standard criminals.”
Experienced Australian diplomats were working with Afghan contacts to find out what had happened and supporting Ms Wilson’s family, said Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop.
“We will do what we can to assure her safety but at present we’re trying to confirm details,” she told reporters.
“It could be counterproductive of me to speculate on matters.
“The Australian government does not, as a matter of policy, pay ransom for kidnappers.”