MIDDLE EAST

Iraq

5 August Nineteen Punjabis arrived back at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi on a special flight after being released by militants in Iraq. However, there was no news about a further 40 Punjabi men who were kidnapped by militants in Mosul on 11 June.

8 August A spokesman for the Iraqi Human Rights Ministry said hundreds of women (said to be at least 500) below the age of 35 years from the Yazidi religious minority had been kidnapped by militants from the Islamic State group (formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS)). Some of the hostages are being held in Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul.

17 August Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s senior crisis response adviser, told Agence France-Presse that up to 3,000 Yazidi women and girls had been kidnapped by Islamic State (formerly ISIL/ISIS) jihadists in the north of the country in the previous fortnight. Hundreds of men who refused to convert to Islam were shot dead. The women have been separated from the men and are being held in the IS controlled Tal Afar, east of Mount Sinjar.

21 August According to a newspaper article, a former staff member of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs has stated that the Islamic State militants have made “millions and millions” of dollars in ransoms out of kidnapping locals as well as foreigners. The Islamic State, from which al Qaeda disassociated itself because it was too brutal, may be less dependent on ransom payments than other extremist organisations as the group reportedly stole around USD425 million from the central bank in Mosul when it captured the city in June. According to the International Business Times which called the Islamic State the “World’s Richest Terror Force”, the provincial governor of Nineveh said the militants had also robbed millions from numerous other banks in Mosul as well as a “large quantity of gold bullion”. The group also receives significant donations from supporters of its radical cause in the Gulf.

Israel

5 August State prosecutors said that Husam al Qawasmi was the mastermind behind the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers, Gil-Ad Shaer, Eyal Yifrah and Naftali Fraenkel, in mid-June that led to the conflict in Gaza. He had confessed to not only giving the orders to Marwan al Qawasmi and Amir Abu Aisha, but also collecting weapons and funds from Hamas. Marwan and Amir are still being sought.

20 August Salah al Ahuri, a senior Hamas official, admitted during a conference of Islamic clerics organised by the World Association of Muslim Scholars in Turkey that the Iz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the Hamas military wing, were responsible for the kidnapping and killing of the teenagers Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-Ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah in the West Bank in June. In a video captured during the conference he is seen praising the “heroic action of the al-Qassam Brigades who kidnapped three settlers in Hebron”. Previously, Hamas had denied being involved in the kidnapping incident.

Lebanon

30 August The Kuwaiti Embassy in Beirut said it was in close contact with the Lebanese security agencies to try to verify a report that an unnamed Kuwaiti citizen had been kidnapped by unidentified gunmen in Baalbek district. Media reports said that the kidnappers had demanded a ransom for the victim’s release.

Syria

4 August According to a report from the Syrian Human Rights Watch, 12 engineers working to repair high tension electricity cables that had been damaged in the fighting, were kidnapped by a group of unidentified gunmen. The incident happened between Al Zorba and Al Zaitun near Aleppo. No group had claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.

6 August The Italian Foreign Ministry announced that two Italian aid worker, later identified as Vanessa Marzullo (21) and Greta Ramelli (20), involved with health and water related humanitarian projects in Aleppo, had been kidnapped “a few days previously”. A third Italian, journalist Daniele Ranieri, who was kidnapped with the two aid workers, managed to escape from the kidnappers and raise the alarm. The kidnappers were not identified but are thought to be from a group that has kidnapped several foreign journalists and aid workers in the past. Later information gave the date of the kidnapping as 1 August and mentioned that the two victims had been taken to the town of El Ismo, west of Aleppo, to the home of the head of the local “Revolutionary Council”. According to their Facebook pages they had made several visits to Syria since 2012. On their latest trip they flew to Turkey and entered Syria through Atma, a huge refugee camp on the border of the two countries.

Miss Ramelli and Miss Marzullo are not the only Italian citizens held by militants around the world. Aid worker Givanni Lo Porto (38) went missing in Pakistan in 2012. Gianluca Salviato (48), a clerk, and Marco Vallisa, a technician, were kidnapped in Libya in March and July 2014 respectively.

13 August The day is the second anniversary of the disappearance of Austin Tice (33), a journalist, in Syria. After a video was published on YouTube in October 2012 that showed the victim in the hands of his captors, the US State Department said the video had been staged and it believed he was being held by the Assad regime. According to an article published in Vanity Fair in May 2014, nothing has been heard about Tice since his disappearance. He is just one of dozens of journalists to have been kidnapped during the conflict. According to Reporters Without Borders, 18 journalists are still missing in Syria.

18 August The Japanese government said it was investigating a video posted online that appeared to show a kidnapped Japanese man being roughly interrogated by Syrian militants. The video showed a man, who identified himself as Haruna Yukawa, lying on the ground with blood trickling down his face. He gave brief answers in English to questions about why he was in Syria and the reason he was carrying a gun. His replies included he was a “photographer” and a “journalist, half doctor” and “I am no soldier”. An official with the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s anti-terrorism unit said that no one had claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. On 21 August, Japanese officials met with Hadi al Bahra, Head of National Coalition of Syria (CNFROS), in Istanbul to seek assistance in obtaining the release of Yukawa.

19 August The Islamic State released a video which it claims shows the beheading of US citizen, James Foley, a Boston based journalist. A US White House spokeswoman said the administration had seen the video and were trying to determine if it is authentic. The victim was kidnapped on Thanksgiving Day 2012 in Syria. The Islamic State called the killing a revenge for US air strikes against militants in Iraq, threatened to kill other hostages if the air strikes continued and showed a second hostage who it is believed is another US citizen, photojournalist Steven Joel Sotloff. The US conducted a further 14 additional strikes after the video surfaced. It was later reported that the kidnappers had contacted the victim’s family and demanded a ransom of USD132 million for his release but this was rebuffed by the US government. In another development, US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel admitted that President Obama had sent special forces to Syria on a secret mission to rescue American hostages held by Islamic State militants. Just after midnight on 4 July at least two dozen US Delta Force commandos landed in armed Black Hawk helicopters in Akrishi near Raqqa. A Syrian source close to the Islamic State said that the militants had been warned about the planned operation after Americans were reported asking about hostages in the Turkish city of Antakya, about 20 kms from the Syrian border. The hostages were not found at the location identified by intelligence.

21 August A British newspaper reported that a Danish citizen was one of four new Western hostages being held by Islamic State militants. It added the other three hostages are two Italian women and a Japanese citizen. The report continued by saying “The English jihadist who beheaded the American journalist James Foley is believed to be the leader of a group of British fighters holding foreign hostages in Syria”. Other reports state that the English jihadist is called “John” and is the leader of a group of three UK-born militants in charge of guarding foreign hostages who are said to be referred to as “The Beatles” by their hostages.

24 August Die Welt am Sonntag newspaper citing German security sources reported that an unnamed 27 year old German citizen from the eastern state of Brandenburg had been released in June after the government did a deal with the Islamic State. It added that the militants were given something for the man’s release but did not specify the nature of the trade off. The German Foreign Ministry refused to comment on the report although it “denied having paid a ransom in any form” and the Interior Ministry were unavailable. The victim had been kidnapped in 2013 while travelling in Syria.

24 August The US Administration and a relative of the hostage confirmed that an American journalist from Boston, Massachusetts, Peter Theo Curtis, was freed nearly two years after being kidnapped in October 2012 by al Nusra Front militants. He was released following mediation by the government of Qatar and handed over to UN Peacekeepers in the Golan Heights. The Qatari Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying: “Qatar exerted relentless efforts to release the American journalist, out of Qatar’s belief in the principles of humanity and its keenness on the lives of individuals and their right to freedom and dignity”. It was later reported that the victim’s family had received ransom demands up to 25 million Euros (USD33 million). A cousin stated that they never knew if this was the amount demanded by the kidnappers or an amount inflated by the intermediaries. It has been reported that no ransom was paid.

26 August A third US citizen who is being held by Islamic State militants has been identified as a 26 year old woman who was kidnapped one year ago while doing humanitarian relief work in Syria. The militants are demanding USD6.6 million and the release of prisoners for the life of the young woman who a relative requested should not be named. She is the third of at least four Americans who are known to be held by the militant group. In addition to the ransom demand, the militants are demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a neuroscientist, who was convicted by a US court in 2010 of trying to kill US officials two years earlier.

28 August Forty three soldiers from the Fiji contingent of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) were kidnapped by militants of the al Qaeda linked al Nusra Front near Quneitra during fighting between government forces and the militants in the Golan Heights. A further 75 Filipino peacekeepers refused the rebels’ orders to disarm and were locked in a standoff. The UN Security Council strongly condemned the kidnapping and called for the unconditional release of the Fijian soldiers. On 31 August the Philippine’s military chief, General Gregorio Pio Catapang, said that 40 Filipino soldiers had made a daring escape under the cover of darkness and were free. Earlier, a group of 35 Filipino soldiers had been escorted from their camp by Irish and Filipino forces mounted in armoured vehicles. The 43 Fijian soldiers were still in the hands of the rebels.

Yemen

12 August A newspaper article claimed that the media in Finland are making great efforts to discover what deal was made to obtain the release of Finnish nationals Atte and Leila Kaleva in May 2013, following six months as kidnapping victims of al Qaeda militants. Ever since Yemen cut off the group’s funding resources, al Qaeda in Yemen has resorted to kidnapping foreign nationals. Faced with the possibility that nationals could be executed, many nations have turned to covert negotiations with al Qaeda affiliates. In July 2013, the New York Times reported that Oman and Qatar had both contributed to the payment of a ransom amounting to several millions of dollars. In between 2012 and 2013 it has been estimated that Oman and Qatar paid up to USD20.4 million in ransoms to al Qaeda. The Kalevas have remained silent about the circumstances surrounding their release.

18 August Dr. Imtiaz Sooliman, founder and director of the Humanitarian Organisation, Gift of the Givers, said his organisation, which is acting as a liaison between the hostage takers of South African, Pierre Korkie, and the victim’s family, had managed to re-establish contact with al Qaeda. He added that he was hoping to hear some news within the next 48 hours. Pierre Korkie and his wife, Yolande, were kidnapped in Tiaz province on 27 May 2013 from their home. On 10 January 2014, the Gift of the Givers Yemeni representative succeeded in negotiating the unconditional release of Yolande. At that time al Qaeda militants said they wanted USD3 million or Pierre would be executed. However, no ransom was paid. Gift of the Givers lost contact with the kidnappers until re-establishing contact in March before losing it again.

31 August Al Arabiya TV broadcast a video showing a British citizen, Bob Sambel, who says that he worked for Intracs Oil Middle East Limited and that he had been kidnapped seven months earlier. He appeared with a handkerchief over his eyes and a red curtain in the background. He asked for efforts to be made to obtain his release. The victim was kidnapped on 3 February in Sana’a.

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