MIDDLE EAST

Iraq

10 July The Fides news agency reported that four Christians had been kidnapped in Baghdad during the previous two week and two of the victims were killed in spite of their families paying ransoms. Two families only received bodies after paying ransoms of USD25,000, another hostage was released after his family paid a ransom of USD50,000 and the fourth hostage was freed without a ransom payment after the police raided the kidnappers’ base.

Israel

22 July Negev police said they were preparing to indict two suspects in the kidnapping of a man from the Bedouin town of Segev Shalom in the Negev desert. The case was under a gag order until the police released a statement revealing that on 24 June 2015 they received a call from a man saying that his brother had been kidnapped and the kidnappers were demanding a ransom of NIS230,000 (USD60,500). The kidnappers added that if the ransom was not paid, the victim would be handed over to their “associates” in Egypt and would disappear. Two days later the police found the house in the Bedouin village of Bir Hadaj, south of Beersheba, where the victim was being held. After the police located the victim, a middle man entered the village to negotiate his release. The police threatened to mount a major operation if the victim was not released. The victim was released in an open area outside the village. He said the kidnappers told him he was being held for ransom as he had stolen drugs from someone linked to them and owed them money.

Lebanon

18 July Five Czech citizens and their Lebanese taxi driver disappeared in the Bekaa Valley. The authorities said they were investigating the disappearance as a possible kidnapping. The Czechs’ car was found in Kefraya, a relatively secure area that is popular with foreign tourists and Lebanese for its local winery and restaurants. The search began after the father of the taxi driver reported his son missing. A spokeswoman for the Czech Foreign Ministry in Prague told reporters that the missing people had been identified and their families were being informed but their identities were being kept secret while the investigation is conducted. The Lebanese news media raised the possibility of the disappearance being connected with the case of the Lebanese citizen, Ali Fayad, who was arrested in Prague last year on charges of terrorism and drug trafficking. The missing taxi driver, Saeb Mounir Taan (50), is from the same village as Ali Fayad and is said to be a relation. Later reports suggested that the five Czechs were on a “journalistic mission”. Cameras were found in their abandoned car and are said to have been used only hours before when an interview was conducted with a local official in the Baalbek region.

20 July Major General Abbas Ibrahim, General Security chief, denied reports that a ransom had been paid to the Nusra Front for the pending release of the Lebanese servicemen kidnapped in August 2014. He added that negotiations handled by the Qatari authorities did not include the payment of any ransom and that the servicemen would be released in one batch. Abu Malek al Talleh, Nusra Front commander for the Qalamoun region, told relatives of the captives during a meeting over the weekend that the group would free three hostages if the Lebanese government released five female prisoners held in Lebanon. The women include Saja Dulaimi, ex-wife of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al Bagdadi, and terror suspect Joumanna Hmayed who was caught last year driving a car loaded with 50kgs of explosives.

Syria

4 July Father Dhiya Aziz (41), an Iraqi Franciscan priest, was kidnapped by suspected members of the al Nusra Front. He was kidnapped while carrying out his pastoral duties near Yirs al Shougur, Idlib province. The priest was released after being held for almost one week. Al Nusra Front denied being involved in the kidnapping and blamed another group of jihadists. The Front claimed they led the police to a neighbouring village where the victim was being held and helped in arranging his release.

21 July The Spanish Federation of Press Association (Fape) said that three Spanish journalists named as Antonio Pampliega, Jose Manuel Lopez and Angel Sastre, had been kidnapped near Aleppo about ten days earlier. The Spanish Foreign Ministry said it was “aware of the situation”. The three journalists are freelancers and none has been active on Twitter for the past 11 days. On 10 July, Sr. Sastre tweeted the word “courage” in Spanish, English and Arabic. It is not known which group has kidnapped the men but parts of Aleppo and the surrounding area are held by the Islamic State.

27 July Pope Francis made an appeal to the international community to increase its efforts to secure the release of Italian priest, Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, who was kidnapped from the city of Raqqa on 29 July 2013. According to John Pontifax, head of press and information at the British based charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), no ransom request has been made public. There are reportedly at least six clergymen being held captive in Syria at present. The ransom fee for a kidnapped priest is around USD200,000.

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