Two of the British men held by Taliban make first phone calls home

EXCLUSIVE Two of the three British men held by Taliban make first phone calls home: Families of charity medic and hotel manager tell of ‘great relief’ at hearing their voices – as Home Secretary reveals UK is ‘in negotiations’ over their safety

  • Families of captured Brits say they have been allowed to call the hostages 
  • Miles Routledge, 23, and medic Kevin Cornwell, 53, among three held by Taliban
  • Suella Braverman said government would do ‘whatever it takes’ to ensure safety 
  • Read more: ‘Danger tourist’ being held prisoner by Taliban’s secret police

Two British men taken prisoner by the Taliban in Afghanistan have today been allowed to make their first emotional phone calls home to loved ones, Mail Online can exclusively reveal.

The families of charity medic Kevin Cornwell, 53, and a British hotel manager told of their ‘great relief’ at hearing their voices for the first time since they were arrested almost three months ago.

The unscripted phone calls, which lasted just under two minutes, came after The Mail on Sunday broke the story that three Britons are being held by the Taliban’s feared secret police.

Also detained is so-called ‘danger tourist’ Miles Routledge, 23, who had returned to Afghanistan despite having previously been evacuated by the British Army when the country fell back under Taliban rule in 2021. He has been held since March 2 but it was unclear whether he too had been allowed to call home today.

It comes after Home Secretary Suella Braverman said this morning that the government is ‘in negotiations’ with the Taliban for the release of the Britons.  

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

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 

Scott Richards, a negotiator from the Presidium Network group, which is assisting the relatives of Mr Cornwell and the hotel manager, told the Mail: ‘We can confirm that the men have spoken with family, that the conversation was unscripted, and that they are being treated fairly.

‘The families were able to speak to them for around two minutes and they could speak freely. It was clearly an important and emotional call and represents tremendous progress in the situation. The details of those calls are private but we understand a great relief to the families.

‘The relief Kevin’s family expressed after hearing his voice for the first time in three months, not knowing if he was well, brought a sense of peace and gave them hope that this situation will be resolved soon.’

Mr Richards told Sky News that his organisation had not negotiated for the phone calls directly with the Taliban. 

We didn’t negotiate that phone call directly. We believe that the came out of negotiation with counterparts to create that circumstance. we believe we were influential in that outcome.’ 

He confirmed that his organisation Presidium is directly involved in negotiations for the hostage’s release.  

The UK does not have an embassy or any consulates in Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover and the Foreign Office is working to secure consular contact with the three men, believed to be held in a secure unit for foreign detainees in capital Kabul. 

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: ‘We are working hard to secure consular contact with British nationals detained in Afghanistan and we are supporting families.’

Home Secretary Suella Braverman confirmed on Sunday morning that the UK government is ‘in negotiations’ with the Taliban for the release of the three hostages. 

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. 

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

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.’

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 told The Mail on Sunday that 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, 52, whom this newspaper has agreed not to name at the request of his family.

He and Mr Cornwell have been held ever since. No charges have been brought and they have not been granted legal representation.

Mr Cornwell was arrested in his room at the Darya Village Hotel and Business Park in Kabul

Previously, Mr Richards told The Mail on Sunday that the case could be a ‘simple misunderstanding’ and urged the Taliban to pardon and release the men, who are understood to be jailed in a secure unit for foreign detainees run by the GDI in Kabul.

He said: ‘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.’

There were concerns around Mr Cornwell’s health because he needs medication.

Mr Richards added: ‘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.

Read more: ‘Danger tourist’ and humanitarian worker are among three Britons being held prisoner by Taliban’s secret police in Afghanistan 

‘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.’

He urged the Taliban to show ‘compassion’ and release the men during the important religious month of Ramadan.

Mr Routledge, a former physics student from Birmingham, 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 at a cost of thousands of pounds to UK 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 Mr 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.

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. 

The ‘professional explorer’ says in the description of one YouTube video, ‘I do the most heinous stuff on the planet’ and claims to be ‘no longer welcome’ in Kenya.  

He even wrote a book of his experience, titled Lord Miles In Afghanistan, a ‘first-hand account of his first and most infamous trip’ to the country. 

The blurb states: ‘Miles experiences a fascinating kaleidoscope of natural beauty, war-torn desolation, poverty, humanity, courage, and generosity. 

‘He finds himself in many places off the beaten path and meets a colorful range of characters. Throughout it all, his eternal optimism and indomitable faith ensure an invigorating narration for this unique journey.’ 

Mr 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.

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

Miles Routledge, from Birmingham, boasts to his thousands of followers online that he travels ‘to the most dangerous places on Earth for fun’

Mr Routledge also visited Ukraine as Russian forces invaded last year, visited a snake infested island in Brazil, and took a trip to war-torn Sudan.

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.

The Taliban takeover has seen the country plunge into a humanitarian crisis. The UN says that 20 million people – half the population – is close to starvation.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken revealed last month that ‘several Americans’ remain detained in Afghanistan.

The Taliban released former US marine Mark Frerichs, who was working as an engineer with a non-government organisation last year, 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.

Five British nationals held by the Taliban for about six months including the former BBC cameraman and Afghanistan expert Peter Jouvenal were released last June.

It is understood that the five had been seized separately and British government sources at the time said nothing was given in return for their release except an apology by them.

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