British Columbia

Abducted B.C. woman's friend fears worst

A friend of a B.C. woman captured in Pakistan in 2008 fears the worst after hearing nothing from her or her captors for 10 months.

Seized in Pakistan in 2008

A friend of a B.C. woman captured by Islamic militants in Pakistan in late 2008 fear the worst after not hearing anything from her or her captors for 10 months.

Bev Giesbrecht of West Vancouver was abducted in the Bannu district while working as a freelance journalist after converting to Islam and taking a Muslim name, Khadija Abdul Qahaar.

Glen Cooper was involved in negotiations to free his longtime friend, and the last time he spoke her was in August 2009.

He said that even then, the 56-year-old Giesbrecht-Qahaar sounded like she had aged 30 years.

In the first year of her captivity, her abductors' ransom demand dwindled from $2 million to $350,000 as deadlines for her threatened beheading came and went.

Cooper said he believes Giesbrecht-Qahaar may be regarded in some circles as not worth the trouble of working to free because of her brand of journalism, which was sympathetic to the militants. "There's no question some elements in the Pakistani government have that point of view," Cooper said.

Some experts familiar with the region and its politics believe the Canadian may have been foolhardy. She was working without the backing of any news organization or government.

"I don't want to judge her from here," American journalist Jere Van Dyk told CBC News. "But to me, it's absolutely insane to try anything like that."

Van Dyk was held by the Taliban for 45 days in 2008. But he had the FBI, the CIA, the U.S. military and CBS News working to free him.

A Foreign Affairs spokesperson would say only that Canada is continuing to work with Pakistan to seek Giesbrecht-Qahaar's safe release.

Liberal consular affairs critic Dan McTeague said it is not clear what is being done. "Until we know exactly and specifically what the Department of Foreign Affairs has done, what our mission in Islamabad is doing, it would be very difficult for Canadians to assume this isn't a case that has gone cold for the past 10 months," he said.

But Van Dyk said more might be happening than is being made public. "I imagine very strongly that Canada is doing a lot right now, none of which we know about," he said.

"I pray that nothing has happened to her," he added. "My sense is, if I had to bet, she's alive."


  • The statement: 'It would be very difficult for Canadians to assume this isn't a case that has gone cold for the past 10 months,' was incorrectly attributed to Glen Cooper in a previous version of this story. And Giesbrecht-Qahaar is 56 years old, not 52 as earlier reported.
    Jul 07, 2010 6:10 AM PT

With files from the CBC's Curt Petrovich