Published Saturday, 02 June 2012
Belfast woman Helen Johnston has been freed by coalition forces. (© PA)
East Belfast woman Helen Johnston, a Kenyan national and two Afghan civilians were kidnapped along by a group associated with the Taliban on 22 May in Badakhshan province in the north east of the country.
They were rescued by coalition forces in an early morning raid on Friday, which was authorised by Prime Minister David Cameron.
Mr Cameron said he had become increasingly concerned about the 28-year-old's safety.
Ms Johnston, who is from Dundonald, had been working as part of Medair, a humanitarian non-governmental organisation based in Switzerland.
A statement from Ms Johnston's parents Philip and Patricia and brother Peter said:
"We are deeply grateful to everyone involved in her rescue, to those who worked tirelessly on her behalf, and to family and friends for their love, prayers and support over the last twelve days.
We are delighted and hugely relieved by the wonderful news that Helen and all her colleagues have been freed.
"We greatly appreciate the restraint shown by the media since her abduction, and ask that they continue to respect our privacy at this special time."
The aid workers were abducted by a group of armed men during a visit to relief project sites in Badakhshan, Medair said.
East Belfast MLA Sammy Douglas knows Ms Johnston's family, and told UTV he is "absolutely delighted" to hear that she is safe.
"It's an absolute relief for Helen and her family. I know she has been in many people's thoughts and prayers in the fortnight since she was captured."
Mr Cameron contacted Ms Johnston's parents and brother, and the aid worker herself.
"They are incredibly relieved about what has happened," he said.
"It's just a huge joy that they are finally going to be re-united and they are all healthy and all well."
Speaking outside 10 Downing Street, he also had tough words for kidnappers.
"They should know if they take British citizens as hostage we do not pay ransoms, we do not trade prisoners.
"They can expect a swift and brutal end."
Medair spokesman Aurélien Demaurex said the aid workers would now be reunited with their families.
"We are really, really happy," he said.
"Medair is relieved that our colleagues are safe. We are immensely grateful to all parties involved in ensuring their swift and safe return.
"The staff members are on their way to be reunited with their families. We ask the media to respect the need for the privacy of our employees and their families.
According to its website, the organisation has worked in Afghanistan since 1996, providing relief to vulnerable and isolated communities.
Despite recent events, a spokesman said the charity was committed to continuing its work "which relies on us working safely within local communities, wherever they may be".
© UTV News