Kidnapping becomes Iraq's boom industry

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Hostage-taking is a booming industry in Iraq, but Italy is the only Western country to admit to paying huge ransoms for the release of its citizens. Rumours of large sums changing hands surfaced with the liberation of three Italian security guards last June. When two volunteer workers, Simona Torretta and Simona Pari, were freed last September after three weeks in captivity, it was claimed that at least €1m (£680,000) had been paid for their release; the denial by then foreign minister Franco Frattini had a hollow ring.

Hostage-taking is a booming industry in Iraq, but Italy is the only Western country to admit to paying huge ransoms for the release of its citizens. Rumours of large sums changing hands surfaced with the liberation of three Italian security guards last June. When two volunteer workers, Simona Torretta and Simona Pari, were freed last September after three weeks in captivity, it was claimed that at least €1m (£680,000) had been paid for their release; the denial by then foreign minister Franco Frattini had a hollow ring.

Britain and the US have by contrast pursued a "no negotiation" line, arguing that paying ransoms intensifies the fever for hostage-taking and lines the pockets of terrorists. But it is a policy that has seen Ken Bigley, Margaret Hassan, Nick Berg and other hostages murdered.

France secured the release of two journalists, Christian Chesnot and George Malbrunot after 124 days allegedly through the payment of a ransom, though this was denied. Another French journalist, Florence Aubenas, who writes for the daily Libération, has been held since January, and her family say her captors have demanded $3m (£1.5m) and the withdrawal of foreign troops.

Last August the Phillipines secured the release of a hostage by pulling its 51-member force out of Iraq. Angelo dela Cruz, a lorry driver, had been held for three weeks. Turkish companies have obtained the freedom of their employees by pledging to stop working in the country.

Soon after a video of Giuliana Sgrena pleading to be saved was broadcast - the abductors' signal to start negotiations - Italy's remaining journalists in Iraq were ordered out by the Italian government, claiming that more abductions were imminent.

Comments