MIDDLE EAST

Iraq

2 December Baghdad’s top security official said that the rise in the number of kidnappings in the city poses a greater threat than the Islamic State. He added that wrongdoers had exploited the situation to carry out abductions, mainly for personal gain but sometimes motivated by sectarianism. Kidnapping cases have increased as a result. Dozens of kidnappings are believed to take place every week in Baghdad and in most recent cases, victims have been released after the payment of a ransom. Many kidnappings are carried out by criminal gangs posing as members of the security forces or of one of the many militia groups operating in Baghdad. In northwestern and northeastern Baghdad, several notable physicians and businessmen have been kidnapped recently and released after paying ransoms. One arrested kidnapping gang leader admitted to a kidnapping in Zyouna for which a ransom of USD20,000 was paid. A second incident was in Jamila and the gang received a ransom payment of USD40,000.

14 December According to the local Diyala police chief, operations in the eastern region have resulted in the release of three hostages and the dismantling of several kidnapping for ransom gangs. Kidnapping for ransom in Baghdad and other parts of the country has grown to such an extent that the government has publicly declared tackling it would be one of its priorities.

30 December Fadel al Ghraoui, a member of the Human Rights Commission in Iraq, said at a press conference held at the Iraqi Council of Representatives that the number of kidnappings had doubled to 4,583 incidents in 2014 when compared to 2013. He added that the kidnappers frequently used motorcycles in their operations, kidnapping male and female students from in front of their schools and that they are often gangs affiliated with ISIL or other gangs specialising in organised crime. The kidnappings are typically committed for financial reasons with ransom demands, or target members of the army, security forces or those from different sectarian backgrounds.

Lebanon

22 December Walid Jumblatt, leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, said that Islamists holding 25 Lebanese servicemen hostage have made a serious offer that is likely to lead to the end of a nearly 5 month ordeal. He added that the Deputy Mayor of Arsal, Ahmad Fliti, has brought with him a serious offer after visiting the kidnappers. An official said that they are waiting for an answer from Turkey to a letter sent ten days earlier requesting help in solving the hostage situation. He added that Turkey and Qatar are the only two countries that can help end the crisis.

Syria

6 December The Islamic State executed one of its kidnapping victims, Ali al Bazal, a Lebanese soldier, who was kidnapped in August. The group posted a message on “Twitter” stating that the execution was in response to the arrest by the Lebanese Armed Forces of Saja al Dulaimi, one of the wives of their leader, Abu Bakar al Baghdadi, and their daughter, and also the wife of Anas Charkas, an Islamic State commander. They threatened to execute another soldier in the near future if the hostages were not released.

11 December Three sources with contact to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) said that ISIS is seeking to sell the remains of James Foley, the US journalist who was beheaded in August. They said that ISIS wants USD1 million for the victim’s body which they will deliver across the border to Turkey. They added that ISIS had offered to provide a DNA sample.

16 December The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) stated that Farhad Hamo, a reporter, and Massoud Aqeel, a photographer, two freelance journalists working for the Kurdish media network Rudaw TV, were kidnapped by members of the militant organisation Islamic State on a highway near the city of Qamishlo according to reports from regional press freedom groups. IS has not publicly said it is responsible for the kidnapping. More than 90 journalists have been kidnapped in Syria since the start of the conflict in 2011 according to CPJ research. Approximately 20 journalists are still missing.

19 December A newspaper report claimed that New York lawyer, Stanley Cohen, had initiated negotiations with the spiritual leaders of the Islamic State in mid-October in an attempt to obtain the release of US aid worker, Peter Kassig (26), being held hostage by Islamic State militants.. The report said that US counterterrorism officials were aware of the talks. The talks were unsuccessful resulting in the beheading of the victim in November.

30 December The British captive of the Islamic State, John Cantlie, a journalist, appears to have written an article for the latest copy of the group’s propaganda magazine. The article, entitled “Meltdown”, appears at the end of the sixth issue of Dabiq magazine, named after a town in Syria, and praises the Islamic State’s decision to start minting its own currency. John Cantlie’s name appears alongside the story although it is not clear what role he had in writing it, or whether his by-line was added to another person’s work.

31 December A video posted on YouTube shows two young women seated in front of a blank wall and wearing black robes. One of them is holding a piece of paper that reads 17.12.14 Wednesday. The other woman appears to be reading from a prepared statement: “We supplicate our government and its mediators to bring us back home before Christmas. We are in big danger and could be killed. The government and its militaries are responsible for our lives”. She identifies herself and her colleague as Vanessa Marzullo and Greta Ramelli, both 21 year old Italian aid workers who were kidnapped in northern Aleppo in August. The 23 second video does not include information about which group is holding the two women but the Arabic translates to: “Nusra Front detains two Italian employees because of their participation in the coalition against it”. It is unclear if the video is authentic.

Yemen

4 December Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) released a video in which it threatened to kill Luke Somers (33), a British born photo journalist with American nationality, who was kidnapped in Sana’a in September 2013. The video featured a message from a local AQAP leader, Nasser bin Ali al Ansi, in which he says the hostage would be killed in three days if Washington failed to meet unspecified demands. Ansi also refers to a “failed operation” in Hadramaut as the “latest foolish action” by the United States and to American activity in Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq as well as recent air strikes in Syria. The hostage also appears in the video stating his name and pleading for help.

6 December Luke Somers together with Pierre Korkie (54), a South African teacher, were executed by their kidnappers during a rescue attempt by US Special Forces at about 1:00am local time. According to a US Administration official, a 40 man special forces team were approaching the kidnapper’s hideout when a dog barked and a militant, who was relieving himself outside the compound, spotted them approaching. No US military personnel were injured during the exchange of fire but six AQAP militants were killed. Four Yemeni counter terrorism troops were wounded.

Imtiaz Sooliman, founder of the charity, Gift of the Givers, said that an agreement had been reached with AQAP for the release of Pierre Korkie for the following day, 7 December. Pierre had been kidnapped together with his wife, Yolande, by militants in Taiz in May 2013. Yolande was released on 10 January after Gift of the Givers had helped negotiate her release. Pierre was a teacher and his wife did relief work. The kidnappers had demanded R32.5 million (USD3.1 million) for Pierre’s release. Sooliman said in October that AQAP had wavered the ransom demand but had said an undisclosed “facilitation fee” had to be paid. Yolande learned of her husband’s death two hours after being told he was to be released. US Government officials said they were not aware that Pierre Korkie was about to be released. It is unclear whether the South African government – which said in a statement it had been working with Gift of the Givers and had “undertaken numerous initiatives” to try to free Mr. Korkie – had informed the United States or Yemen about his imminent release.

25 December Security officials said that Shi’ite rebels, known as Houthis, are suspected to be responsible for the kidnapping of Major General Yehia al Marani from his Sana’a residence around dawn. About 20 gunmen overpowered the guards and demanded to be taken to the General.

27 December Sheikh Mohammad al Wadei, a prominent Salafi scholar, was kidnapped during the evening on Mazda Street near the Al Hasabah neighbourhood in Sana’a. A source stated that the kidnappers fired at the victim’s car and forced it to stop. No group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. The victim is a member of the Yemeni Ulama Association, a prominent organisation of Salafi scholars that was vocal in its opposition of the takeover of Sana’a by Houthis on 21 September. They have continued to be critical of the movement.

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