MIDDLE EAST

Syria

5 May Seven Lebanese troops held hostage by al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, al Nusra Front, were shown in a 14 minute video posted online. The men are seen sitting on a blanket in front of a black flag of the al Nusra Front. They accuse the Lebanese government of not doing enough to secure their release and criticise the Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah group that is fighting alongside the Syrian government against al Nusra Front. The seven men are among about 20 Lebanese soldiers and policemen who have been held captive by al Nusra Front and Islamic State since August 2014.

7 May According to a report produced by the US Congressional Research Service, the Islamic State’s varied sources of funding are a challenge for US and international efforts intended to weaken and destroy the terrorist group. A part of the report stated: “For example, although some observers have expressed hope that recent reductions in the global price of oil may disrupt the Islamic State’s financial base, the group seems to have found viable alternative fundraising opportunities, including local extortion, kidnap for ransom schemes, increased import duties, and receipts of donations from foreign benefactors”. The report goes on to say that IS has generated significant income, possibly USD25 to USD45 million in 2014, in ransom fees from kidnapping.

14 May A Communiqué was issued on behalf of the Counter-ISIL Finance Group (CIFG) that met for the second time on 7 May in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The Communiqué rejected the payment or facilitation of ransoms to ISIL in line with the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions. The CIFG was co-led by Italy, Saudi Arabia and the United States and included representatives from 25 countries and several multilateral organisations. The purpose of the CIFG is to work towards combating ISIL’s sources of financing including the ongoing problem of kidnapping for ransom.

14 May During a meeting in New Delhi, Indian External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj, told relatives of 39 Indian hostages held by ISIS militants that all the hostages are alive. She said the information was based on reports from various sources. The hostages were taken in June 2014 in Mosul. The Minister added that the government was making every effort for the safe and early release of the hostages. This was the seventh meeting between the Minister and the families of the hostages.

16 May United States Delta Force commandos in a rare raid from Iraq across the border into Syria, killed Abu Sayyaf, said to be the Islamic State’s head of oil operations, captured his wife, Umm Sayyaf, and rescued a Yazidi woman held as a slave.

21 May Father Jacques Mourad (40), a Syriac Catholic priest, and Botros Hanna, a church volunteer, were kidnapped by two masked men from the Mar Elian Monastery in al Qaryatayn, Homs province. The two victims were driven away in a car. Father Mourad had lived in al Qaryatayn for more than ten years.

26 May A former sergeant in the British army said Islamic State (IS) has placed a bounty on Europeans and Americans who are fighting alongside the Kurds in Syria and Iraq. He added that new intelligence had revealed that IS kidnap gangs had been formed to capture western volunteers, with bounties of USD150,000 being placed on each man. He commented that there is a problem with criminal gangs trying to infiltrate the Peshmerga and other militias with the purpose of capturing a volunteer.

Yemen

31 May The Washington Post cited unnamed sources reporting that at least four Americans were being held by Shi’ite rebels, known as Houthis, in Sana’a. The report added that three of the hostages had private sector jobs while the fourth held dual US-Yemeni citizenship and none is a US government employee. The newspaper was withholding details about the four hostages at the request of relatives and US officials, who cited safety concerns. Apparently, attempts to free the hostages had failed.

31 May A month old video of kidnapped Frenchwoman, Isabelle Prime, was found and authenticated by the French government. The 21 second video, posted on YouTube, shows the victim dressed in black and sitting on the ground. She appeals to French President Francois Hollande and Yemeni leader Abed Rabbou Mansour Haddi for help. The Frenchwoman and her Yemeni translator, Shereen Makkaoui, were kidnapped in Sana’a in February while travelling to work. She was reported to have been working as a consultant on a World Bank funded project. The translator was reported to have been released in March. The identity of the kidnappers is unclear.

31 May The US State Department said that Casey Coombs, a journalist, had been released but the details of his detention remained unclear as the US vowed to free more of the Americans being held. An image on social media showed the hostage immobilised on a stretcher as US Ambassador to Oman, Greta Holtz, greeted him in Muscat, Oman. A State Department spokeswoman declined to give details on who had been holding Coombs or what medical issues he had.

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