MIDDLE EAST

Iraq

7 December Islamic State (IS) posted an eight minute propaganda video showing kidnapped British journalist John Cantlie (45) speaking from Mosul and describing how allied forces had bombed four of five bridges across the River Tigris resulting in hardship for the residents. The journalist appears bearded, thin and wearing a heavy dark coat and black trousers. Cantlie, who was kidnapped in Syria in July 2012, was last seen alive in an IS propaganda video in July 2016.

13 December In a 47 minute long video allegedly released Islamic State (IS) and titled “Tank Hunter”, John Cantlie, wearing a helmet and looking gaunt, appears for the second time in a month. The video was released on the IS channel from “Wilayat Ninawa”, the IS name for the occupied Nineveh Governorate of Iraq. Wearing a helmet Cantlie remarks on the urban warfare that is going on in Mosul. He says: “I haven’t seen war like this for a long time” and adds: “We’re in the centre of Mosul a little way east, and behind me it looks like the scene of a Steven Spielberg film, except this is for real. This was an Iraqi army base here in the centre of Mosul and now you can see behind me it’s complete destruction ....... absolute carnage here”. This is the ninth IS propaganda video in which Cantlie has appeared since being kidnapped.

27 December Afrah Shawq (42)i, a reporter for al Aalem al Jadeed online newspaper and mother to two young boys, was kidnapped by between 8 and 15 unidentified gunmen from her residence in Saydiya, Baghdad, early in the morning. Her sister wrote on Facebook that the kidnappers arrived in a pickup truck and claimed to be affiliated with the authorities. The victim’s private car and personal possessions were stolen by the kidnappers. The victim has caused controversy in the past with her critical reporting of the authorities. On 30 December, there were mass demonstrations demanding the release of the victim.

30 December Prime Minister Haider al Abadi said during his weekly press conference that there has been a “relative increase” in the “scale of kidnapping” carried out by “organised crime (gangs)”. Iraqi officials refused to give any specific numbers for criminal kidnappings in Baghdad but a source with access to Interior Ministry records said these show 745 registered instances of kidnapping in Baghdad during the first nine months of 2016. A further 30 unregistered cases are known to the police over the same period as the victims’ relatives did not report them for fear of endangering the victim’s life. Criminal gangs are said to try to extort between USD10,000 and USD 100,000 in ransoms depending on the wealth of the victim. There have been cases in which, in spite of the family paying a ransom, the victim has been killed.

Jordan

19 December Jordanian security forces killed at least four gunmen after an operation to free tourists trapped inside a medieval castle in the city of Karak. The militants had taken shelter there after a series of running battles with police during which at least nine people, a Canadian woman, three other civilians and five police officers had been killed. At least 29 people were taken to hospital, some with serious injuries. Police in Karak had earlier freed 10 people, including foreign tourists.

Saudi Arabia

13 December Sheikh Mohammed al Jirani, a judge at the Endowments and Inheritance Department in the Qatif court, was kidnapped by three masked men who forced him into a car as he was waiting in his car outside his house at about 9:00am to drive his wife to a woman’s sports club. On 30 December, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Interior told reporters at a conference in Riyadh that three men had been arrested in connection with the kidnapping and three more were being sought. He warned the kidnappers against harming their victim and called upon them to release him unconditionally and immediately.

Syria

10 December US White House hostage envoy, James O’Brien, told federal officials he has “positive, yet cautious” news and that there is “high confidence that Austin (Tice) is alive in Syria”. Austin Tice, a photojournalist and former US Marine, disappeared while reporting near Damascus in August 2012

Yemen

5 December Local sources confirmed that Houthi militias had kidnapped dozens of civilians in Sana’a and al Bayda provinces in less than 48 hours. The rebels kidnapped more than 60 civilians in Tayab area, including children and elders, in retaliation for the operation carried out by the popular resistance that resulted in the deaths of more than 10 Houthi rebels. In Sana’a, Houthi militias kidnapped many civilians after inspecting their telephones and finding photos of the popular resistance. A recent report documented that Houthis and ousted Saleh militias had kidnapped around 10,000 opposition members over the previous eighteen months. The two rebel groups are said to have around 484 “detention centres” in addition to 10 secret prisons.

24 December A spokesman for the Egyptian embassy in Sana’a said that the release of 49 Egyptian fishermen who were kidnapped in late November from the port city of al Hudaydah, had been successfully negotiated. The Egyptian ambassador had worked closely with the UN envoy in Yemen and the International Committee of the Red Cross to secure the hostages’ release.

26 December Father Thomas Uzhunnalli (55), an Indian Catholic priest, appeared in a five minute video posted on YouTube looking haggard, with a long white beard and speaking in halting English. He was kidnapped on 4 March 2016 when Islamic State fighters stormed an old people’s home in Aden. He accused the Indian government and the Pope of doing little towards getting him released. He appeared to be reading from a script when said in a weak voice: “If I were an European priest, I would have been taken more seriously by authorities and people and (they) would have got me released. I am from India and, therefore, I perhaps am not considered as of much value. I am sad about this”. This was the second video of Fr. Uzhunnalli to be posted on social media. The previous one was last July. The Indian government said that, in the absence of any government in Yemen, it had approached Saudi Arabia and local Yemeni authorities to assist.

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