The UK Government is ‘in negotiations’ with the Taliban over three British nationals who are being held hostage, the Home Secretary confirmed.
Suella Braverman told Sophy Ridge on Sky News that the UK government would do ‘whatever it takes’ to ensure the safety of British nationals abroad.
Charity medic Kevin Cornwell, 53, and another British national who manages a hotel for aid workers in the capital Kabul have been detained by the Taliban’s secret police since early January.
The other Briton being held is notorious ‘danger tourist’ Miles Routledge, 23, who boasts to his thousands of followers online that he travels ‘to the most dangerous places on Earth for fun’.
He had recently returned to Afghanistan, filming videos shooting guns with Taliban troops, despite having to be evacuated from a ‘holiday’ in the country in 2021 when the Islamists seized back power.
The UK does not have an embassy or any consulates in Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover.
Suella Braverman told Sophy Ridge on Sky News that the UK government would do ‘whatever it takes’ to ensure the safety of British nationals abroad
Miles Routledge, 23, first grabbed headlines during the Taliban take-over of Afghanistan last year when he went on ‘holiday’ to the country and had to be evacuated from Kabul
Kevin Cornwell, 53, a British medic for charity Iqarus, who has been detained by the Taliban’s General Directorate of Intelligence in Kabul, Afghanistan, since January 11
The Home Secretary said: ‘Anyone travelling to dangerous parts of the world should take the utmost caution.
‘If they are going to do that, they should always act on the advice of the Foreign Office travel advice.
‘If there are risks to people’s safety, if they’re a British citizen abroad, then the UK government is going to do whatever it takes to ensure that they’re safe.
‘The government is in negotiations and working hard to ensure people’s safety is upheld.’
Non-profit organisation the Presidium Network is assisting two of the men, charity medic Kevin Cornwell and a second unnamed man.
Mr Cornwell, a married father from Middlesbrough, was arrested in a raid at his hotel by officers from the Taliban’s General Directorate of Intelligence (GDI) on January 11. Taliban agents accused him of having an illegal firearm in the safe in his room at the Darya Village Hotel, which is popular with Western humanitarian staff.
Mr Cornwell’s family said he had been granted a licence for the handgun by the Taliban government.
He had been in Afghanistan for 11 months working as a medic for Iqarus International, which provides free health care to local people. Also detained in the raid was the hotel’s British manager, whom this newspaper has agreed not to name at the request of his family.
He and Mr Cornwell have been held ever since in a secure unit for foreign nationals run by the GDI. No charges have been brought and they have not been granted legal representation.
The two men’s families are being supported by Scott Richards, an experienced negotiator with Presidium Network, a British non-profit organisation that works in conflict zones.
Mr Richards said: ‘Having spoken with multiple witnesses to the events, it could be that we may be looking at a misunderstanding with GDI who may have been reacting to a tip.
‘The weapon in Kevin’s room was stored with the licence issued by the Taliban’s ministry of interior and was apparently kept inside its holster.
‘The weapon never left the safe, it had never been carried. So the GDI could have been following a tip, and then they find themselves with two British nationals in detention.’
Mr Routledge (right) had recently returned to Afghanistan, filming videos shooting guns with Taliban troops, despite having to be evacuated from a ‘holiday’ in the country in 2021
Routledge, a former physics student at Loughborough University, has posted videos of himself firing weapons with Taliban fighters
He said he understood that the men were being well treated and are in good health, though there were concerns around Mr Cornwell because he needs medication.
Mr Richards said: ‘The clear concern here is that the detainees have not been permitted access to consular officials or international observers. There is no clarity as to the legal process in Afghanistan such as the right to representation.
‘There is no clarity on the charges. Kevin is a humanitarian worker, liaising with the United Nations, Unicef and the World Food Programme.
‘To have people involved in such work with the incredible needs of Afghanistan at the moment, and to be potentially arbitrarily detained, will make it difficult to assure the safety of other aid workers.’
Last night, he urged the Taliban to show ‘compassion’ and release the men during the important religious month of Ramadan.
Routledge, a former physics student at Loughborough University, who has tens of thousands of social-media followers, has been unusually silent online since the end of February.
He was branded an ‘idiot’ in August 2021 when he had to be evacuated during the Taliban takeover. His extraction was funded by British taxpayers.
Foreign Office advice is not to travel to the ‘extremely volatile’ country, which has been plunged into crisis after the chaotic withdrawal of American forces following two decades of war.
But Routledge has made several trips to Afghanistan in the past year and released a video in which he claimed he was travelling on forged documents.
Other clips showed him blasting automatic rifles with a Taliban fighter and visiting a weapons market in the city of Jalalabad, a stronghold for terrorists affiliated to Islamic State.
Routledge previously said he believed he would be safe in Afghanistan because of a £15 joke purchase that gives him the right to use the title ‘Lord’, but a security source said his Taliban captors may think he is genuinely a member of the English aristocracy.
Routledge also visited Ukraine as Russian forces invaded last year and took a trip to war-torn Sudan.
It was unclear where he was being held last night. His mother Susan said she had not heard from him.
Miles Routledge, from Birmingham, boasts to his thousands of followers online that he travels ‘to the most dangerous places on Earth for fun’
Mr Cornwell was arrested at the Darya Village Hotel and Business Park in Kabul
Security experts said it was likely that the Taliban would demand a prisoner swap in return for the release of Western men held.
Another possibility is that the Islamists, who do not have diplomatic recognition as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, will demand the release of billions of dollars frozen by sanctions.
Many of the senior leaders of the Taliban are listed as terrorists by the UN Security Council.
Their return to power triggered sanctions preventing any financial transactions with them or any institutions under their authority.
Last year, the Taliban released former US marine Mark Frerichs, who was working as an engineer with a non-government organisation, after holding him for more than two years.
He was swapped for Taliban financier Bashir Noorzai, who was serving a life sentence in a US prison for drug-trafficking.