Kidnap Survivor Recounts Ordeal

On the point of beheading their captive, the insurgents relented – but though he lived to tell the tale, he is emotionally scarred by the experience.

Kidnap Survivor Recounts Ordeal

On the point of beheading their captive, the insurgents relented – but though he lived to tell the tale, he is emotionally scarred by the experience.

Friday, 18 November, 2005

Sardar Hama Ali Rasool prepared himself for death by reciting the opening verses of the Koran.

His kidnappers readied the knife for the beheading, at the same time debating whether or not to give Rasool pills to dull the pain. The insurgent holding the knife ended the debate by saying, “It is nothing - it will take only a few minutes.”

One of the kidnappers pushed Rasool to the floor. As the knife was about to slice into his neck, the group’s leader suddenly ordered, “Stop!”

As Rasool raised his head, the man said, “I don't know why, but I don’t want to behead you. I will send you somewhere else."

Rasool is one of the many Iraqis – the precise number is unknown - who have been kidnapped by insurgents during the last two years, often ending in murder. International media focus mainly on the plight of foreign hostages, but scores of Iraqis have been also been kidnapped, by gangs motivated by extreme ideology or simply the prospect of ransom money.

In Rasool’s case, the men who kidnapped him were Islamic fighters who targeted him because he works for a European non-governmental organisation that removes unexploded ordinance from schools and public buildings.

Rasool was kidnapped last November as he walked alone through the al-Bayya neighbourhood of Baghdad. Three masked men came up to him and one of them hit him on the head with the handle of a pistol. Rasool said he tried to snatch the gun out of the man’s hand, but one of the others shot him in the thigh.

A car pulled up next to them and the men picked up Rasool and threw him into the vehicle. They fired shots out of the car to discourage anyone from coming to his aid.

"There were four policemen standing nearby, next to the Directorate of Estate Titles and Deeds,” said Rasool. “But they did nothing to save me.”

The men went through Rasool’s pockets and discovered several identification cards issued by his employer. One of the cards had a picture of a United States flag on it, because his organisation was supported by an American contractor.

One of the insurgents pointed at the flag and accused Rasool of spying for the United States and Israel. They demanded that he tell them the names of contractors working for the US army, but Rasool told them he knew nothing.

He was blindfolded and taken to a building in a remote area. There were no sounds of aircraft or cars, just silence.

On the first day, three insurgents came into Rasool’s room both to dress his wounds and to interrogate him, "They were very tough in the first investigation and they slapped me in the face.”

That night, two of the interrogators returned with a piece of paper bearing some details about Rasool. They said, "If you answer the questions correctly, we’ll set you free."

They proceeded to asked Rasool his name, address and the location of his employer – questions he answered truthfully.

Then the insurgents brought in two other men who were handcuffed and hooded. The insurgents beat the men with a hose, accusing them of killing the imam of a mosque and belonging to a Shia militia.

Two days later, the insurgents told Rasool that they were expecting the arrival of their boss. When the leader arrived, Rasool was interrogated again. He protested, “You said you would set me free today.”

But the chief insurgent replied, “I have issued a fatwa that you should be beheaded." He then put a towel over Rasool’s face and took him into an adjacent room.

“When they removed the towel, I could see there were five people,” said Rasool. “They were standing in front of a black banner and one of them had a big knife.”

They sat him at a table, facing the leader and a cameraman. Rasool asked the men to shoot him instead of beheading him, for the sake of his family.

Rasool has no idea why the insurgent leader decided to spare his life that day.

He likened the situation to the time he was arrested and tortured by Iraqi intelligence back in 1993 - “I don’t know why, but in such cases I defy fear and torture.”

The insurgents took Rasool to another location, and offered to release him for 50,000 US dollars. Rasool said he bargained with the men and finally got the sum down to 20,000 dollars, which his family eventually paid.

After his release, Rasool’s life changed dramatically.

His employer promised to transfer him to Arbil, a safer environment since it is in the Kurdish-controlled north, but that hasn’t happened yet.

He says the kidnapping robbed him of his job and his health, “Since that time, I haven’t received any salary and I have not been compensated for my injuries.”

He is eager to get back to work despite objections voiced by his family.

But Rasool admits that the kidnapping has left him with deep psychological scars.

“Ever since the kidnapping, I feel sad, alone and isolated.”

Talar Nadir is an IWPR trainee journalist in Sulaimaniyah.

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