AFP - Unknown assailants kidnapped a Japanese man as he visited a development project in eastern Afghanistan Tuesday, police said, in the latest in a series of attacks on aid workers.
The man was snatched outside the city of Jalalabad in the eastern province of Nangarhar at about 6:30 am, provincial police spokesman Gharfor Khan told AFP.
"He was kidnapped from a field next to a stream when he arrived to work on a water supply project," Khan told AFP.
Khan was unable to immediately provide details about the kidnapped man or say who might have taken him. "We have started our operation to find him," he said.
Security forces had moved into the area where the Japanese man was believed to be held, provincial government spokesman Ahmad Zia Abdulzai told AFP, blaming the kidnapping on "thieves."
Kuz Kunar is a normally calm district about 20 kilometres (12 miles) north of Jalalabad. The area does not see the regular unrest by the extremist Taliban militia that plagues other parts of Afghanistan.
The Japanese embassy in Kabul was not immediately available for comment.
In Tokyo, the foreign ministry said it had set up a task force in the Afghan capital to collect information.
Japanese media said the abductee was Kazuya Ito, 31, who worked for a nongovernment organisation called Peshawar-kai.
Public broadcaster NHK quoted Afghan police as saying a four-member armed force had kidnapped a Japanese man.
There has been a spike in kidnappings across Afghanistan as security has deteriorated despite the presence of nearly 70,000 international soldiers helping the government to exert control over the fractured and violent country.
Some are carried out by the Taliban, who were in government between 1996 and 2001 and are waging a growing insurgency that includes attacks on Western-backed security forces and aid groups.
Others are by criminal groups seeking ransom.
An Afghan senator was kidnapped near Kabul mid-July by men who claimed to be Taliban while six Afghan mine clearers have been held in the east of the country for nearly a week.
Two Iranian nationals have been missing in western Afghanistan for more than a week and are also believed to have been kidnapped.
About 25 aid workers have meanwhile been killed by extremists or criminals in Afghanistan this year, more than for the whole of 2007.
In the deadliest such attack in years, Taliban gunmen shot dead three Western women and their Afghan driver on August 13 as they were driving to Kabul in a vehicle marked with the logo of their group, the International Rescue Committee.
An Afghan employee of a French aid group Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED) was found murdered in the north last week, two days after he was abducted, his organisation said.
Japan has been a leading donor to Afghanistan since the ouster of the Taliban regime in 2001.
It has lost two nationals to violence in the country: two Japanese schoolteachers, a man and a woman, were shot dead in 2005 after they apparently went to insurgency-plagued Kandahar province on holiday.
Another Japanese volunteer, 23-year-old student Satoshi Nakamura, was kidnapped by bandits in October in a region of southeast Iran bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan. He was released unhurt almost two months later.
The Peshawar-kai NGO was set up by Tetsu Nakamura, a Japanese doctor who has worked in Afghanistan and Pakistan for more than two decades. Well-known in Japan, Nakamura was in 2003 awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award, sometimes called Asia's Nobel Prize.