An alleged spokesman for the Taliban announced Monday that the Islamic militant group has extended its deadline to free 23 South Korean Christian hostages to Tuesday evening.
Qari Yousef Ahmadi, who claims to speak for the Taliban, said the group will push back the deadline another day before killing the Koreans after the Afghan government refused to release any of the 23 Taliban prisoners the group demanded, according to The Associated Press.
The insurgents have pushed back the deadline at least three times, with the previous ultimatum being Monday 10:30 a.m. EDT.
Khail Mohammad Husseini, a lawmaker from Ghazni province – where the hostages are being held – said Monday that the Taliban had increased their demands that all militant prisoners in Ghazni must be released, according to AP.
Ahmadi, however, denied the report and said the Taliban is still demanding the release of 23 prisoners.
"If the government won't accept these conditions, then it's difficult for the Taliban to provide security for these hostages, to provide health facilities and food," Ahmadi told AP by satellite phone. "The Taliban won't have any option but to kill the hostages."
Last Thursday, dozens of Taliban gunmen took over a bus carrying a church group from South Korea on its way to do volunteer work in a southern city in Afghanistan.
The kidnapping of the 23 South Korean Christians is the largest abduction of foreigners since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, attracting massive international attention to the case.
The supposed Taliban spokesman at first said the group had captured the hostages to question them on their activities and purpose in Afghanistan. Later Ahmadi demanded that South Korea withdraw its 200 troops from the country in exchange for the release of the South Korean citizens.
On Monday, the Taliban added to its list of demands that the Afghanistan government free 23 Taliban prisoners.
The Afghan government and a South Korean delegation, which arrived in the in Afghanistan on Sunday, are currently discussing the crisis and negotiating with the Taliban to secure the release of the hostages.
"Pray that God would do a miracle and permit them to be released without the use of force," urged Jeremy Sewall, South Asia policy analyst at the Christian persecution ministry International Christian Concern.