World and Nation

Conflicting stories surround American found in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan — As a U.S. military patrol walked through a rural, Taliban-dominated district of Kandahar province recently, a man wearing local clothes came toward them shouting, “Don’t shoot, I am an American!”

He asked for their protection, saying that he had been abducted by the Taliban and held for months but had finally managed to escape, according to Western officials in Kabul.

That is one version of his story. It is not the one told by local villagers, elders and Taliban in the Zheri district of Kandahar. They say that he sought out the Taliban and was treated less as a hostage than as a supporter and that he openly traveled with them on motorcycles around the district. A tall black, he cut an unmistakable figure, they said.

Much remains mysterious about the man, identified as Takuma Owuo-Hagood, not least of all his motivations for going to Afghanistan. The Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Owuo-Hagood entered the country June 23, a little more than three months before he surfaced.

He is now back home, in the Atlanta area. Family members reached there said that Owuo-Hagood, a 25-year-old husband and father, was a baggage handler for Delta with business aspirations. They said he had tried to make money traveling to China and Turkey to buy clothes for resale back home and that he had been drawn to Afghanistan by revelations of its untapped mineral wealth.

“He thought that might be a good place to seek out business opportunities,” said his father, Mikell Hagood, asserting in a telephone interview that his son had not been a willing guest of the Taliban.

Western officials in Kabul say they remain uncertain of Owuo-Hagood’s motivations. An internal memorandum circulating among Western officials cautiously says that Owuo-Hagood “traveled to Kandahar and was then ‘abducted’ and held for several weeks.”

“On Oct. 2,” it continues, “he ‘escaped’ and flagged down U.S. forces in RC-South.”

The U.S. Embassy would say little other than to confirm that a private U.S. citizen sought assistance from U.S. forces on Oct. 2 in southern Afghanistan and that the embassy flew him to Kabul and returned him to the United States.

After arriving in Kabul, Owuo-Hagood made a call to his family. But after weeks without any further word, the family contacted the State Department, his father said.