One Group Eyed in Two Iraq Kidnappings




 
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One Group Eyed in Two Iraq Kidnappings
 
December 2nd, 2005  
Team Infidel
 
 

Topic: One Group Eyed in Two Iraq Kidnappings


One Group Eyed in Two Iraq Kidnappings
By ROBERT H. REID and DONNA ABU-NASR - Associated Press Writers
BAGHDAD, Iraq - (AP) Four Christian peace activists held hostage
in Iraq were kidnapped at the same place where an Italian journalist was
abducted, raising the possibility one group carried out both attacks, police
said Thursday.
The style of the abduction also was similar: The activists were
seized Saturday in the vicinity of a mosque near Baghdad University. A car
blocked their car, gunmen got out, threw the driver and translator out and
drove away with the four captives, security officials said. They spoke on
condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to the media.

Giuliana Sgrena, a reporter for the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto,
was seized Feb. 4 and held for a month by a group calling itself Mujahedeen
Without Borders. That previously unknown group has not been heard from
since, but may now be using a different name.
The four activists for the Chicago-based Christian Peacemaker Teams
were being held by a group called the Swords of Righteousness Brigade _
another unfamiliar name. The group claimed that its hostages, shown sitting
quietly in a video, were spies working under the cover of Christian peace
activists.
While in captivity, Sgrena also appeared in a video. She begged for
her life and warned foreigners to leave the country.
Iraqi police Lt. Thaer Mahmoud said Thursday that the activists were
kidnapped in the same place as Sgrena, whose release on March 4 touched off
a tragic friendly fire incident that strained relations between Italy and
the United States.
Nicola Calipari, an Italian intelligence agent, was killed by U.S.
soldiers at a checkpoint as he was escorting Sgrena to Baghdad's airport.
Whether or not the same group was holding the Christians, militants
in Iraq are resorting again to a tactic they have not used for months: a
succession of abductions targeting Westerners. Insurgents, including
al-Qaida in Iraq, have seized more than 225 people, killing at least 38.
The latest victims _ five Westerners and four Iranians kidnapped in
the past week _ may have been targets of opportunity, or victims of ransom
seekers or lax security. Either way, the abductions give militants the
publicity they seek to show they are a force to be reckoned with.
"The media card is crucial in any international conflict, and these
groups are seeking to reaffirm their existence through such kidnappings,"
said Diaa Rashwan, an Egyptian expert on Islamic militancy.
The new abductions of Westerners comes after a monthslong hiatus.
The gruesome killings of past hostages have brought criticism from many
Arabs. Influential Egyptian cleric Sheik Youssef al-Qaradawi issued a fatwa
saying that since Iraq remains in a state of war, the kidnapping of those
involved in the war is allowed but hostages should not be killed.
That view is reportedly shared by the second-in-command of al-Qaida,
Ayman al-Zawahri. The Pentagon said in October that the military in Iraq had
intercepted a letter from al-Zawahri to Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab
al-Zarqawi, urging him to avoid bombing mosques and slaughtering hostages to
avoid alienating the public.
In the latest known kidnapping, six Iranians were grabbed Nov. 29 in
Balad, north of Baghdad. Iranian state TV said a day later that two Iranian
women had been freed; four men apparently remain captive.
The abduction of the Iranians came four days after the disappearance
of German archaeologist Susanne Osthoff, 43. On a video made public Nov. 29,
kidnappers threatened to kill her unless Germany stops dealing with the
Iraqi government. Osthoff, who speaks Arabic, had helped distribute aid in
Iraq.
In a message shown Thursday on Germany's ZDF television, Osthoff's
sister and mother pleaded with the kidnappers to consider that their captive
was a Muslim convert with a young daughter as well as a friend of Iraq.
"My sister has lived in your country for a long time and has
committed herself to Iraq. Susanne has brought medicine to ill people. She
loves the great Iraqi culture. She wanted to preserve the treasures of Iraq
for the Iraqi people," Anja Osthoff said.
The Christian activists _ Tom Fox, 54, of Clearbrook, Va.; Norman
Kember, 74, of London; James Loney, 41, of Toronto; and Harmeet Singh
Sooden, 32, of Canada _ had been repeatedly warned by Iraqi and Western
security officials that they were taking a grave risk by moving about
Baghdad without bodyguards.
Osthoff also traveled without security guards, and the Berlin
newspaper Tagesspiegel reported Thursday that she had told Iraqi authorities
about her travel plans and that someone in the security services may have
tipped off kidnappers.
Some security experts believe the surge of kidnappings may be a
result of lax security, attempts by the insurgents to mix up tactics in an
intense period of car bombings and suicide attacks _ or a desire to disrupt
next month's elections.
The recent spate may also be pure coincidence, some analysts say.
"It depends on the availability of victims for kidnapping," said
Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at the RAND Corp. in Washington.
Rashwan said there "may not be any kind of rationalization or
strategy to what the insurgents are doing."
"It could be that they did not have enough ... human resources in
the past few months, or that kidnapping was not a top priority," Rashwan
said.