Afghan female runner missing, may be seeking asylum

LONDON -- The only female athlete on Afghanistan's team for the Beijing Olympics has gone missing from a training camp in Italy and apparently is seeking political asylum in Norway.

Mehboba Ahdyar, a 19-year-old runner who competes in the 800 meters and 1,500 meters, hasn't been heard from since leaving the training center in Formia last week. Her luggage and passport also were gone.

"The IOC accepts that athletes sometimes feel they have to make hard choices to improve their lives," International Olympic Committee spokeswoman Emmanuelle Moreau said Thursday. "It would appear this is what has happened in this case."

Ahdyar, part of Afghanistan's four-member Olympic team, had been training for the Aug. 8-24 Games on an IOC scholarship program that assists athletes from smaller and less-developed nations.

She began training in April at a high-performance center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and moved in early June to the pre-Games facility in Formia, south of Rome, where she was supposed to stay until July 7.

"She's gone missing," Moreau said. "We don't have any official information. We only know that she might be seeking asylum in Norway."

The IOC has had no word from Ahdyar and is in contact with Afghanistan's national Olympic committee and the International Association of Athletics Federations.

"On July 4, she left with her bags and passports, and we have not heard from her since," IAAF spokesman Nick Davies said. "We have heard nothing from her directly."

In Kabul, the deputy chairman of the Afghan Olympic body, Sayed Mahmoud Zia Dashti, said Ahdyar had a leg injury and was receiving treatment in Italy.

"I can confirm that she has injured her leg and that she has will not participate in the Beijing Olympics and that her family in Italy is taking care of her," he said.

There had been fears that Ahdyar's disappearance could be linked to death threats from Muslim extremists in Afghanistan opposed to women running in the Olympics.

Afghanistan was banned from the 2000 Sydney Olympics, because the Taliban regime in power at the time barred women from taking part in the Games.

The 2004 Athens Games marked the first time Afghan women competed in the Olympics, with Robina Muqimyar running in the 100-meter heats and Friba Razayee competing in judo.

Afghanistan is fighting a Taliban insurgency six years after the hardline regime's ouster, and women are still considered second-class citizens. Taliban militants often target organizations and individuals who champion women's issues.

Ahdyar's family of eight lives in a mud-brick house in one of the poorest parts of Kabul.

"We are scared, really scared about the security situation in our country and of the people who have negative views about my family," Ahdyar's mother, Moha Jan, told The Associated Press in March. "These problems cannot stop us from supporting our daughter."

Ahdyar, who competes wearing a head scarf and long pants, runs the 1,500 meters in about 4 minutes, 50 seconds -- a full minute slower than the world record.

According to the IOC, she began running in road races in 2004, moving to track competition two years later. She broke the national records for the 800 and 1,500 in 2007.