MIDDLE EAST

Iraq

2 September Eighteen Turkish nationals, 14 workers, three engineers and one accountant, employed by construction company, Nurol Insaat, were kidnapped when masked men in military uniforms stormed the construction site early in the morning. An Iraqi official was also kidnapped. The victims were taken away in several SUVs. Nurol Insaat is building a sports complex in the Shi’ite district of Sadr City, Baghdad. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi blamed organised crime for the kidnapping but did not elaborate. On 3 September, Turkish Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioglu told the media at the Turkish parliament that the kidnapping was not the work of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). On 11 September, it was reported that an unknown militant group identifying itself as “Furaq al-Mawy”, or “Death Squads”, had claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and had issued a list of demands that it said Turkey must fulfil to obtain the release of the hostages. Among the demands were: “Turkey order rebel forces to stop besieging four Shi’ite villages in northern Syria”; Ankara stopping “the flow of militants from Turkey to Iraq” and “the passage of stolen oil from Kurdistan through Turkish territory”, and “stop sending troops to Iraq”.

On 16 September, two of the workers were released in Basra. The kidnappers were thought to be members of a Shia group. On 28 September, the sixteen remaining hostages appeared in an online video in which the on screen text said the captors had decided to release the hostages after civilians besieged by Sunni insurgents in the Shi’ite villages of Kefraya and al Foua in north-western Syria had been given safe passage. Later in the day, the group behind the kidnappings released an online statement saying the sixteen hostages had been released. On 30 September, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said through his Twitter account that the sixteen workers had been handed over to the country’s ambassador in Iraq and were all in good health.

8 September Abdel Karim al Saadi, Director General for Financial and Administrative Affairs at the Justice Ministry, was kidnapped by black clad gunmen travelling in several cars who stopped the deputy justice minister in the Binook area in north east Baghdad at around 1:30pm. His driver was wounded by gunfire when he tried to intervene. Two bodyguards who were kidnapped with him were later released. The identity of the kidnappers was not known and there was no immediate claim of responsibility.

19 September India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj told the families of the 39 Indians held hostage by Islamic State (IS) that all the hostages are alive. The hostages were taken in June 2014 from Mosul. Ms. Swaraj added that there was no “first hand confirmation” but multiple sources had indicated that the hostages were being made to work in Iraq.

Syria

9 September In the latest issue of their English language online magazine, Dabiq, Islamic State (IS) posted pictures of two men dressed in yellow jumpsuits. The men were identified as Ole Johan Grimsgaard-Ofstad, a 48 year old post graduate student at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and Fan Jinghui, a 50 year old Chinese freelance consultant from Beijing who worked in advertising and TV production and described himself as a free spirit and a reader of Greek philosophy. The pictures are in the form of an “advertisement” for the payment of ransoms for the release of the two men. The headline reads: “Norwegian Prisoner for sale” and adds “”Note: This is a limited time offer”. It goes on to give a telegram number under which is stated: “whoever would like to pay the ransom for his release and transfer”. Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg said that the government learned of the possible kidnap of a Norwegian citizen in January. She added that, while Norway aimed to secure the hostage’s release, it was not willing to buy him back from the terror group adding: “Norway does not pay ransom money”. In January the victim posted on Facebook that he had arrived in Idlib and was going to Hama the following day. Why he was there has yet to be determined. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said that the authorities are still verifying the identity of the Chinese hostage.

Yemen

5 September John Sclichter, the best friend of Scott Darden (45) from Atlanta, Georgia, one of three US citizens being held hostage by Houthi rebels, made public the fact against the wishes of the US government when he launched a Facebook notice advocating for his release. He said: “Americans deserve to know that their fellow citizen, a good hearted man earning an honest living abroad, was taken prisoner in a conflict that is nothing to do with him”. The victim was taken hostage while transporting humanitarian aid. The other American hostages are believed to be a 54 year old Michigan man who was with Darden, and a 35 year old man who was teaching English in the country. Scott Darden was kidnapped in March but the kidnappers have yet to make a ransom demand. On 7 September, his employer, Transoceanic Development, issued a statement:

“We have been working tirelessly since March with governments and other organisations globally to secure the release of Scott Darden, who was in Yemen coordinating the warehousing and delivery of humanitarian aid as part of his job in international logistics. We continue to call on the Houthis to immediately release Scott so he can be reunited with his family”.

In mid-February, the United States abandoned its embassy in Yemen. Shortly afterwards, the embassy was ransacked by the Houthis who took possession of several vehicles and weapons according to reports.

On 8 September, John Kirby, State Department spokesman, said: !We are aware of reports of several US citizens being detained in Yemen, but due to privacy considerations, I don’t have any further personal details or information to share”.

21 September The official agency of the Sultanate of Oman, ONA, stated that through “humanitarian efforts” emissaries from the Sultanate had succeeded in obtaining the release of two American, three Saudi Arabian and one British citizen who had been held hostage by Houthi rebels. The released hostages were flown in a Sultan of Oman’s Air Force (SOAF) aircraft from Sana’a to Muscat. A third 35 year old American citizen, a Muslim convert, who had been teaching English, was not released for reasons that were not clear. The two released Americans were named as Scott Darden (45), an employee of Transoceanic Development, a Louisiana based logistics company, and Sam Farran (54), a security consultant from Michigan.

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