MIDDLE EAST

Iraq

16 February The US State Department said that the three American citizens, two Iraqi Americans and an Egyptian American all employed by a subcontractor of General Dynamics, who were kidnapped in Baghdad in mid-January had been released in an area near Yousifiya, south of Baghdad. State Department spokesman, Mark Toner, said: “We sincerely appreciate the assistance provided by the government of Iraq, and its whole-of-government effort to bring about the safe release of these individuals”. US Defence Department spokesman Peter Cook said the men were contractors for the State Department and the Pentagon was not involved in their recovery. Three Iraqi officials speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to brief the press, said the three victims were freed by the Iraqi intelligence service. On 18 February, US officials familiar with the investigations into the kidnapping incident said criminal, such as ransom or a prisoner swap, not political motives were likely to have been the reason for the kidnapping. They added that US agencies had no evidence the Iranian government had any role in the incident.

Lebanon

2 February The Czech Foreign Ministry released a statement saying that five Czech men who were kidnapped in July 2015 in the Bekaa Valley along with their Lebanese driver, Saeb Fayyad, had been freed on 1 February and were in the care of Lebanese security forces. The fate of the driver was not known. The Ministry declined to provide further details due to “the investigation underway managed by the anti-organised crime department (UOOZ) of the Czech police”. A Lebanese security official told AFP:”The release of the five Czechs is the final part of the exchange deal that includes the release of the Lebanese detainee in Prague, Ali Taan Fayyad (Saeb Fayyad’s brother)”. Another Lebanese security source, also speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the deal. Media reports had connected the kidnapping to the case of Fayyad, a Lebanese man held in Czech custody in connection with arms smuggling on the behest of the United States. A Czech court approved a US request for his extradition in September 2015 but his lawyers filed a complaint which has yet to be heard by the High Court in the Czech Republic. Fayyad’s brother was the Lebanese driver who was kidnapped, and his defence lawyer was among the Czech group. According to Czech news website, IDNES.cz: “The abduction of the Czechs took place with the tacit consent of the Lebanese government”. Ali Taan Fayyad, a member of Lebanon’s Military Intelligence, was in the Czech Republic on a spying mission according to a leaked report.

Syria

22 February Younan Talia, from the Assyrian Democratic Organisation, announced that the 40 remaining hostages of the original 230 Assyrian Christians kidnapped in February 2015 from communities along the southern bank of the Khabur River in Hassakeh province, had been released by Islamic State militants. Younan Talia said IS had demanded a ransom of USD18 million but had later reduced the amount after negotiations. He added he did not know the amount of the final payment but officials reported that millions of dollars had been paid. Another source said that less than half the USD18 million had been paid.

Turkey

21 February Turkey’s state run media agency, Anadolou Agency, said that three of its journalists had been kidnapped by members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in the Nusaybin district of southeastern Mardin province. No further details were provided. The three victims were released after being held for 48 hours. Security sources said that the three were believed to have been kidnapped after filming in a PKK stronghold without permission from the militant group.

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