MIDDLE EAST


Iraq

19 September Islamic State militants released 46 Turkish hostages who had been held captive for more than 3 months in northern Iraq. The hostages, including the consul general, diplomats’ children and special forces soldiers, were kidnapped from the Turkish consulate in Mosul on 11 June. President Tayyip Erdogan claimed the release had been the result of a “covert rescue operation” and denied any ransom or release of prisoners was agreed. Three non-Turkish hostages taken at the same time were also released. On 23 September, a prominent columnist for a pro-government Turkish newspaper wrote “a few names who are of great significance to ISIS have been used in a swap”. A website known as the voice of ISIS in Turkey reported that the hostage release was approved by Abu Bakr al Bagdadi, ISIS’s supreme leader and self-declared caliph.

Israel

23 September Two Palestinian men, Marwan Kawasme and Omar Abu Aysha, were killed in Hebron during a shoot out with Israeli troops who had surrounded a house in which they were hiding. They were accused of being responsible for the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers three months ago which led to the problems in Gaza.

Lebanon

9 September Sectarian tensions in the Bekaa Valley have been raised due to tit for tat kidnappings by gunmen. The wave of kidnappings, some of which were motivated by ransom, was triggered by the beheading of Sgt. Abbas Medlej, the second Lebanese soldier to be killed by ISIS militants in less than two weeks after the killing of 1st Sgt. Ali al Sayyed.

14 September Al Qaeda linked militant group, the Nusra Front, released a video of two Lebanese army soldiers held by the group in Syria. The Nusra Front is demanding the release of Islamic militants held by the Lebanese as well as money in exchange for approximately two dozen Lebanese soldiers and police they have kidnapped. The Lebanese government has rejected an exchange deal saying it would only encourage further acts of kidnapping.

24 September Asaad Saleh, a Syrian national, was kidnapped by three gunmen while in his car in front of Dar al Amal hospital in Baalbek. The gunmen forced him into their vehicle and fled. They later made a ransom demand of USD200,000. On 30 August, a Kuwaiti national was kidnapped in Baalbek and the kidnappers reportedly demanded USD1 million for his release.

26 September LBCI TV station reported that kidnappers were demanding USD135,000 for the release of Khodor Darwish, brother of Nawwaf Darwish who works as a reporter for the station. Khodor disappeared the previous day near Baalbek. His vehicle was found in the Baalbek village of Taybeh parked near the market. There has been a rise in kidnappings in the Bekaa Valley over the past few years with gangs increasingly taking advantage of the lack of stability due to the Syrian war to kidnap people and demand a ransom.

Syria

2 September The Fiji army chief, Mosese Tikoitoga, announced the demands being made by al Qaeda linked Syrian rebels for the release of 45 Fijian members of the UN peacekeeping contingent who were taken hostage hostage in the Golan Heights the previous week. He said the demands included the al Qaeda affiliated al Nusra Front being removed from the UN’s list of terrorist organisations, humanitarian aid being sent to a small town just outside Damascus which is an al Nusra stronghold and compensation for three of their fighters who had been hurt in recent days. Unconfirmed reports in the Fijian media said the hostage takers were also demanding the release of Abu Mussab al Suri, aka Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, an al Qaeda leader who was arrested in Pakistan in 2005 and is now being held in Syria.

3 September The Islamic State militant group released a video claiming to show the beheading of a second American hostage, journalist Steven Sotloff (31) who was kidnapped in Syria in August 2013. A masked figure in the video also issued a threat against a British hostage named as David Haines, an aid worker with the humanitarian aid organisation ACTED, held by the group. Mr. Haines was kidnapped in Syria in March 2013. The man also warned governments to back off “this evil alliance of America against the Islamic State”. The purported executioner appeared to be the same British accented man who appeared in the video of the beheading of American journalist James Foley on 19 August.

4 September According to a report by Agence France-Presse (AFP), the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation had stated that three Canadian citizens were involved in the kidnapping of two American journalists, Theo Curtis and Matt Schrier, by Islamic militants in Syria. The two hostages had been held together between 2012 and 2013. Curtis was released by al Nusra Front last month and Schrier escaped in 2013. The three Canadians had forced the two hostages to reveal their computer passwords and PIN numbers so they could drain their bank accounts. They had also written letters and e-mails to the families of the two journalists pretending to be the two men. According to statements from the Canadian government, around 130 Canadians are fighting overseas for Islamic militant groups but some say the figure is higher.

11 September The UN confirmed that 45 Fijian peacekeepers who had been kidnapped two weeks earlier on the Golan Heights by the al Qaeda linked Nusra Front had been released. It was reported that the militants had dropped all their demands and the release was facilitated by pressure from religious leaders.

13 September The families of James Foley and Steven Sotloff, the American journalists executed by the Islamic State (IS) in Syria, claimed the possibility of a lawsuit if they tried to pay a ransom was raised by a senior White House official in charge of counter terrorism at a meeting held in May. They were also told that there would not be any exchange of prisoners. John Kerry, the American Secretary of State, said he was surprised when challenged on the issue. Denis McDonough, White House Chief of Staff, denied that the administration had threatened the families but added they had made clear what the law states about paying ransoms to terrorists. According to the director general of GlobalPost, the employer of James Foley, the first ransom demand by the kidnappers was EUR100 million (USD132 million).

14 September The Islamic State (IS) terrorist group released a video claiming to show the beheading by “Jihadi John” of the British aid worker, David Haines (44). In the video, “Jihadi John” mocks the west and threatens to execute another British aid worker, Alan Henning (47). David Haines was kidnapped in Syria in March 2013 while working for the French aid organisation Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED). Alan Henning, a taxi driver from Manchester, UK, was kidnapped when armed jihadists attacked the aid convoy he was travelling with in January 2014.

18 September Over 100 of the UK’s most influential Muslim leaders and religious heads made an unprecedented joint appeal to the ISIS kidnappers of British aid worker Alan Henning to release him unharmed or commit the “worst condemnable sin” against Islam. They wrote: “Anyone undertaking a humanitarian act is paving his or her way to receive help from heaven. In contrast, the senseless kidnapping and despicable threats to Henning cannot be justified”. On 21 September, the victim’s wife, Barbara, said she had sent a message to ISIS begging for his release but had not received a reply. On 23 September the family received an audio file from ISIS in which her husband pleads for his life. On 30 September, an emotional video of Alan Henning’s wife, Barbara making an appeal to the Islamic State to release her husband was released.

18 September ISIS released a video on YouTube of another British hostage, John Cantlie, a newspaper photographer, who has been held by ISIS for almost two years. In contrast to previous videos, he is seen sitting behind a table in a room against a black background. No one else appears in the video and no specific threats are made against him. He says he is making a desperate attempt to save his life and reveals he has made a number of propaganda films on behalf of the militants before adding: “It’s true I am a prisoner but seeing as I have been abandoned by my government, and my fate now lies in the hands of the Islamic State, I have nothing to lose”. A second video lasting for almost six minutes was released on 23 September. It follows a similar pattern to the first one with John Cantlie dressed in an orange outfit similar to that worn by other IS hostages who appeared in videos. He is seen reading from a pre-prepared script and repeats that he has been abandoned by his government.

20 September When President Hollande of France was asked why French hostages had been freed (four French journalists were freed by ISIS at Easter) he said: “France does not pay ransoms nor does France exchange prisoners. That does not mean other countries don’t do it to help us. I concede that”. Referring to the French journalists he added: “We did everything we could and we succeeded because other countries helped us”.

25 September The FBI reported that it had identified the masked executioner, known as “Jihadi John”, in the Islamic State beheading videos of US journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley and the British hostage David Haines. FBI Chief James Comey declined to name the militant or to provide further details.

29 September ISIS militants released a third propaganda video showing British photo journalist, John Cantlie, wearing an orange jumpsuit. In the video he attacks the airstrikes led by the US and plans to use Iraqis and Syrians to fight ISIS.

Yemen

8 September Ahmed al Radie, a judge in the Appeals Court in al Baida City, was kidnapped by an unknown tribal group from his residence. A group of armed men knocked at the door of the victim at around 8:00pm. When he opened the door, they took him and his security escort by force. The security forces were trying to discover his location. This was the second kidnapping in one week in al Baida. Previously, the manager of the Yemen Economical Corporation (YECO), al Baida branch, had been kidnapped in a similar manner to the judge. His kidnappers demanded a ransom of YR15 million (USD70,000) two days after his kidnapping. The manager was released after his family paid the ransom. Although some areas of al Baida governorate are believed to be strongholds of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a security official ruled out AQAP’s involvement on the grounds that the group has never before kidnapped locals for ransom in the governorate.

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