MIDDLE EAST

Iraq

16 December Falih al Zayadi, Governor of Samawa, said that at least 26 Qatari hunters had been kidnapped when about 100 gunmen driving dozens of pickup trucks broke into their camp in the area of Busaya in Samawa desert near the border with Saudi Arabia. Hunters from the Gulf States often travel to the area at this time of year to hunt with falcons. A police colonel said that the hunters were being escorted by an Iraqi security force but it decided not to engage the large force of gunmen when they broke into the camp at about 3:00am. It appears the kidnappers fled with the Qataris into a desert area near Nassiriya, 185 miles south of Baghdad. Two Iraqi intelligence officers linked with protecting the party were also kidnapped but later released. It was later reported that members of the Qatar royal family, including one “prince”, were among the kidnapping victims. On 21 December, a representative of the Iraqi Committee on Security and Defence said that the security forces had detained five people suspected of being involved in the kidnapping. He added that nine hostages, service personnel to the Qatari royal family, had been released by the kidnappers. On 22 December, Iraqi TV Channel al Sharqiyya reported that the kidnappers had called for a change in Qatar’s policy over Iraq and the release of prisoners held by Jabhat al Nusra in Syria. Another website, Erem News, said that the kidnappers wanted a prisoner exchange for Sheikh Nimr al Nimr, a Shia cleric sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia (Note: Sheikh Nimr was executed by the Saudis in early January 2016).

Lebanon

1 December Sixteen Lebanese security forces personnel – police and soldiers – were released as part of a prisoner exchange with Jabhat al Nusra, the al Qaeda branch in Syria. The hostages had been held for more than one year and negotiations were mediated by Qatar. The exchange took place on the outskirts of the Lebanese town of Arsal with the help of the Lebanese Army and members of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The sixteen were exchanged for at least a dozen prisoners including five women who were being held in Lebanon. Saja al Dulaimi, the ex-wife of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State (IS), was among the group. She had been arrested when she entered Lebanon in 2014. Her children, including a baby she gave birth to in prison in June, were released with her. She told al Jazeera that she and her children were refugees and her ex-husband, whom she divorced six years ago, was not the leader of IS when they were married. The full terms of the deal were not disclosed. The body of one Lebanese hostage was handed back. Before this exchange, eight servicemen had been released and four were killed. Nine servicemen are still believed to be in IS hands and were not part of the deal.

11 December Hannibal Gadhafi, son of the late Libyan dictator, Colonel Muammar Gadhafi, was freed by his kidnappers after being held for several hours. A security source said that he had been kidnapped by an armed group in the region of Bekaa while he was travelling from Syria and was freed in the same region. Another source claimed that the police rescued him. The National News Agency said that the kidnappers had demanded information about Sheikh Mussa Sadr, a Lebanese Shi’ite leader who went missing in Libya in 1978 during an official visit to Libya at the invitation of Colonel Gadhafi. Journalist Badreddine and Sheikh Mohammad Yaacoub were kidnapped with Sadr. Labanon blames Gadhafi’s regime for Sadr’s disappearance. According to sources, Suleiman Hilal Assad, a cousin of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, was behind the kidnapping of Hannibal Gadhafi. A source said that a gang headed by Suleiman Assad kidnapped Hannibal Gadhafi in Syria and handed him over to an armed group in Lebanon. The victim was held for a few days near Baalbek before locals became aware of the kidnapping which compelled the kidnappers to release him. On 18 December, a security source said that former Lebanese Member of Parliament, Hassan Yacoub, had been arrested for questioning in connection with the kidnapping. Yacoub was the Member of Parliament from the Shi’ite Amal movement which is popular in the south and east and was founded by Sheikh Mussa Sadr.

Syria

3 December A report emerged that one of France’s most wanted extremists, Salim Benghalem (35) who is thought by many to have been the mastermind behind the terrorist attacks in Paris in November, was interviewed by British Islamic State hostage, John Cantlie, in February following the Charlie Hebdo atrocity. Benghalem is the leader of the Buttes-Chaumont terrorist network that included Said and Cherif Kouachi, the brothers behind the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January. In the interview, Benghalem urged Muslims in the West to “be wolves on the earth” and carry out further attacks. John Cantlie was captured by Islamic State (IS) in 2012.

29 December Reporters Without Borders (RWB), based in France, withdrew a press release dated 22 December claiming freelance Japanese war correspondent, Jumpei Yasuda, had been kidnapped. RWB said: “The release was not drafted according to normal procedure and was not sufficiently verified. It has therefore been withdrawn pending fuller information”. The original release said his captors “had started the countdown for the payment of a ransom, failing which they are threatening to execute him or sell him to another terrorist group”. The withdrawal was made following criticism that the premature announcement could endanger Yasuda’s life. Yasuda was originally kidnapped a few hours after crossing the border into Syria in early July 2015.

Yemen

1 December An International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spokeswoman said that unidentified gunmen kidnapped two Red Cross employees in Sana’a while they were on their way to work. One, a Yemeni, was released a few hours later but the other, a Tunisian female staffer, was still being held by the kidnappers. The ICRC has suspended all movements of its staff in Yemen.

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