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Paper 1065                                                   22.07.2004

by B.Raman

According to the Associated Press, in a statement issued on July 21, 2004, a hitherto unknown terrorist  group  calling itself "The Holders of the Black Banners," claimed it had taken six  hostages - three Indians, two Kenyans and an Egyptian -, all of them truck drivers,  and threatened to  behead them one every 72 hours  if their countries did not immediately announce the withdrawal of their citizens from Iraq and if the the company they work for (said to be Kuwaiti) did not close its branch in Iraq.

2."We have warned all the countries, companies, businessmen and truck drivers that those who deal with American cowboy occupiers will be targeted by the fires of the Mujahideen," the  statement attributed to it said. "Here you are once again transporting goods, weapons and military equipment that backs the U.S. Army."

3.In photos provided to the Associated Press along  with the statement, six of the hostages are shown standing behind three seated, masked gunmen. One of the hostages holds a paper with the typed names of seven men - presumably six of them are the hostages - their nationalities, passport numbers and the registration numbers of the trucks they were driving. The paper is stamped July 20 and the words "Universal Services" (presumably the name of the Kuwaiti company) were handwritten on top.

4.The names on the paper are Ibrahim Khamis from Kenya, Salm Faiz Khamis from Kenya, Jalal Awadh from Kenya, Antaryami, from India, Tilak Raj, from India, Sukdev Singh, from India, and Mohammed Ali Sanad, from Egypt. It is not clear which of the Kenyans listed on the paper is not a hostage and what is he, if not a hostage.

5.A day before the kidnapping, a statement purported to have been issued by the "Khalid Ibn Al-Walid Brigade, military wing of "Jamaat al-Tawhid wa'l-Jihad [Unity and Jihad Group],  the terrorist group headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who is believed to be co-ordinating the terrorist strikes against the US in Iraq,  demanded that Japan should follow the example of the Philippines and withdraw its troops from Iraq or face attack.

6.It said:" We never forgive anyone who supports Iraq, since  you came not to help the Iraqi people but to protect the Americans. You will know the same fate as the Americans and others killed in Iraq." It  also warned Arab and other Islamic countries against "sending forces to Iraq to support American forces and the invasion" of the country. It specifically warned  Pakistan, Jordan, Turkey, Iran, the Gulf Arab states, other Middle East countries, Indonesia and Malaysia." For the last time, we warn that we will strike with force all those who support the Americans, (Prime Minister Iyad) Alawi and his group," it added.

7.It further said: "In the event of sending Arab and Islamic troops, we will not remain without a reaction. We swear that we will fight them more than the Americans." It called upon all  Arab and other Islamic soldiers to disobey orders to work in  Iraq; otherwise "car bombs are waiting for you". The warning did not refer to India.

8. Since the beginning of this year, in addition to continuing their suicide bombings directed at Iraqi policemen and others collaborating with the US occupation forces, mortar attacks and ambushes directed at the US troops and the leaders and officials of the Iraqi regime set up by the US and acts of sabotage directed at oil installations and other economic targets, the foreign terrorist and Iraqi resistance  groups operating in Iraq have been increasingly resorting to kidnapping of not only American individuals, but also foreign nationals working for contractors providing logistic services to the US troops.

9. The kidnappings have been followed by threats to behead the hostages if their demands are not met. The demands included the withdrawal  of the troops of the countries to which some of the hostages belonged or the withdrawal of civilians from their countries working in Iraq or the stoppage of the functioning of their companies in support of the Americans in Iraq. The objective of many of the kidnappings appears to be to disrupt the logistic services of the US troops, to cause division in the so-called coalition of the willing and to deter other countries from sending troops to Iraq in response to the appeal of the Iraqi Government.

10. Many of the foreigners kidnapped, including the three Indians and a Pakistani kidnapped and released earlier, were working as truck drivers with Turkish, Saudi and Kuwaiti companies transporting food and other supplies to the US troops. There have been 60 kidnappings so far. Only in respect of three---two Americans and a South Korean-- was the threat to behead carried out. All of them were Christians. One Bulgarian was also reported to have been beheaded, but this has not been confirmed.

11.Two Turks and a Pakistani were released. It is believed that the fact of their being Muslims played a role in the decision of the terrorists  to release them without any harm. There have been some other releases also, including of some Italians. For over a month now, there has been a debate in the jihadi circles about the religious correctness of Muslims beheading Muslims. Many feel it is wrong, but the latest statement of the Zarqawi group has warned Pakistan and other Islamic countries that the fact that their personnel are Muslims would not protect them if they helped the Americans.

12.On June 25, 2004, Amjad Hafeez, a Pakistani national from Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK), was kidnapped by unidentified terrorists as he was driving a truck carrying food articles from Kuwait to Baghdad. Amjad was employed by a Saudi Arabian firm, Al-Tamimi, which had a sub-contract for catering services with US firm Kellogg, Brown and Root, a subsidiary of US Vice-President Dick Cheney's  former company Halliburton. The terrorists threatened to behead him if the Pakistani Embassy in Baghdad was not closed down and if all Pakistanis working in Iraq were not withdrawn. Pakistan rejected their demand. However, the terrorists released him on July 2,2004, after  televised appeals to release him made by President Pervez Musharraf and the mother of the hostage.

13.After his return to Pakistan, he told the Voice of America (VOA) in an interview that  he witnessed his captors killing  thee other hostages, and that he  was only spared because he is a Muslim. He said he had difficulty in communicating with his captors, because his knowledge of  Arabic was poor. The identities of these three hostages are not yet clear.

14.He said that the terrorists initially accused him of being a U.S. spy and were disinclined to believe that he was a true Muslim. Only after seeing him pray, they accepted that he was a true Muslim and released him.

15.Earlier, the terrorists had also freed two Turkish hostages after their Turkish company called Kayteks agreed to stop doing business with the US occupation forces in Iraq.

16.Subsequently, the Zarqawi group kidnapped two Bulgarian and one Filipino truck-drivers . It threatened to behead the Bulgarians if the US occupation forces did not release all Iraqi detainees and the Filipino driver  if the Filipino forces were not withdrawn from Iraq.The Government of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo  succumbed to the pressure from the terrorists and secured the release of the Filipino hostage by withdrawing the Filipino troops based there. Though the kidnapping of the Filipino has been terminated, the Filipino Government continues to be concerned over the situation in Iraq, where about 4,100 Filipinos are working for private contractors, who are providing  rations to the US troops. The Bulgarian Government has rejected the demands of the terrorists. One of the Bulgarians was reported killed, but his body has not been found. A headless corpse in an orange jumpsuit was reportedly found floating in the Tigris River, but it has not been identified.

17. The ground situation in Iraq is marked by considerable disorder. There are many Iraqi resistance and foreign terrorists operating in Central and Northern Iraq. Some identify themselves under different names, some prefer to remain anonymous. Zarqawi projects himself as the chief co-ordinator of all the groups, whether indigenous or foreign, but the evidence in support of his predominant leadership role is still inconclusive, though American analytical accounts tend to give him  a larger than life-size image just as  they had given Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda after 9/11. What is probably happening is that the Zarqawi group, which is the most well-organised and well-motivated and which consists exclusively of Arabs, including many Arabs of Chechen origin, has managed to bring together under its leadership a number of other autonomous groups, formed by Iraqis and non-Arab foreigners such as Pakistanis of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) in a united front of Iraqi resistance groups similar to bin Laden's International Islamic Front (IIF).

18.Apart from Zarqawi's group, other groups, which have claimed responsibility for the past kidnappings, are a group identifying itself as members  of "Islamic Response," the security wing of the "National Islamic Resistance — 1920 Revolution Brigades" (the name refers to the uprising against the British after World War I), another group calling itself "the Implacable Power Against the Enemies of God and the Prophet" and the just-emerged "The Holders of the Black Banners." The Islamic Response group first came to notice on August 12,2003.It has since  claimed responsibility for many attacks on US troops.

19.A background note on Zarqawi as carried in our earlier paper at is reproduced below:

20."There are conflicting accounts of the jihadi career of Abu Musab. Abu Musab is his kuniyat (assumed name) and not the real name. al-Zarqawi means from Zarqa, which is a  town in Jordan. His assumed name means father of Musab of the town Zarqa in Jordan. One does not know why he uses Musab as his kuniyat. His real name is believed to be Ahmad Fadil Al-Khalailah, which means Ahmad son of Fadil of al-Khalil, which is the name the Arabs use for the Israeli town of Hebron.His family had apparently migrated to Jordan from al-Khalil (Hebron) and he himself was born in Zarqa. He also uses the kuniyats Abu Ahmad, Abu Muhammad and Sakr Abu Suwayd.

21."He fought against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the late 1980s. After the withdrawal of the Soviet troops, he went back to Jordan and tried to organise a movement against the King. He was arrested by the Jordanian authorities and jailed for seven years. After his release, he took up residence in Europe and then returned to Afghanistan in 1998. He was associated with an organisation  called the Jamaat al-Tawhid wa'l-Jihad [Unity and Jihad Group], whose objective was the overthrow of the monarchy in Jordan and the proclamation of an Islamic Caliphate. The Al Tawhid is believed to have  a presence in Europe, independent of Al Qaeda, particularly in Germany, the UK and Spain. It is not known to be a member of the IIF.

22." The German authorities arrested on April 23, 2002,Shadi Abdalla, Mohamed Abu Dhess, Aschraf al-Dagma, Ismail Shalabi and Djamel Moustfa on charges of belonging to al-Tawhid and planning to carry out acts of terrorism in Germany. The German account of Abu Musab's jihadi career, according to which he had visited Iran in the past, contradicted the perception  of him as anti-Shia.

23."The Jordanian authorities have linked him to al-Qaeda's  Millennium bombing plot targeting the Radisson SAS hotel in Amman as well as other American, Israeli, and Christian religious sites in Jordan and to the  October 28, 2002, assassination of  U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley in Amman. Some reports had projected him as a close associate of Osama bin Laden, but other reports had claimed that he had his own training infrastructure in Herat in Afghanistan before 9/11, which was independent of the Al Qaeda's in the Kandahar-Jalalabad region.  His name had not figured much in the accounts of the jihad of the 1980s against the Soviet troops in which he had participated.  His name has been frequently appearing in reports only post-1998 when he was reported to have brought a number of Jordanians to Afghanistan for training, initially in bin Laden's training camp and subsequently in his own. Whenever he visited Pakistan on his way to and back from Afghanistan, he used to stay with the leaders of the LEJ (Lashkar-e-Jhangvi) in Jhang in Punjab and in Karachi. He was a close personal friend of Maulana Azam Tariq, former head of the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, the political wing of the LEJ, who was assassinated by unidentified elements in October last year.

24." In his address to the UN Security Council  in February 2003, Gen. Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, had said: "Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda lieutenants.  Zarqawi ,a Palestinian born in Jordan, fought in the Afghan war more than a decade ago. Returning to Afghanistan in 2000, he oversaw a terrorist training camp. One of his specialties, and one of the specialties of this camp, is poisons. When our coalition ousted the Taliban, the Zarqawi network helped establish another poison and explosive training  camp, and this camp is located in northeastern Iraq." He then described a camp producing ricin and other poisons, operated by the "radical organization Ansar al-Islam that controls this corner of Iraq" and added: "He traveled to Baghdad in May of 2002 for medical treatment, staying in the capital of Iraq for two months while he recuperated to fight another day. During his stay, nearly two dozen extremists converged on Baghdad and established a base of operations there. These al-Qaeda affiliates based in Baghdad now coordinate the movement of people, money and supplies into and throughout Iraq for his network, and they have now been operating freely in the capital for more than eight months.  Iraqi officials deny accusations of ties with al-Qaeda. These denials are simply not credible. We know these affiliates are connected to Zarqawi because they remain, even today, in regular contact with his direct subordinates, including the poison cell plotters. And they are involved in moving more than money and materiel."(citation ends)

25. Indian security professionals have considerable expertise in dealing with hostage situations in Indian territory. In dealing with situations outside the country, diplomacy has to play a more active and important role than security expertise. The successful termination of the situation would depend on the co-operation received from the authorities of the country where the kidnapping has taken place. Since the Iraqi authorities themselves do not have any control over the hostage-takers and their country, one may have to identify other countries such as Syria and Iran and respected Muslim religious personalities from India as well as the region to appeal to the terrorists to release the hostages. There is also a need for a dissemination of Arabic language telecasts explaining India's policy of not sending any troops to Iraq and the recent steps taken by the Govt. of India against the illegal recruitment of Indians by regional contractors for working in Iraq.

26. "A kidnap is always a crisis. It is a crisis for the hostages, a crisis for their families and friends, often a crisis for the country where it happens - and it is a crisis for us. We try to manage it as we would any other crisis - by identifying the main players and keeping in constant touch with them; by developing a strategy and sticking to it; and by pursuing every avenue we can think of to bring the crisis to a controlled end. But we are only human and experience has taught us that the main rule in hostage cases is that there are very few rules. Often we do not have all the information; sometimes information is deliberately withheld from us; situations change fast and in remote places with poor communications and a huge time difference; the media produce stories which we can't substantiate; and we are not always given the facts - people often tell us what they think we want to hear; or they don't tell us the truth because they have an eye on the politics of the situation or, worse, their own personal or financial gain. I am quite sure that others here today in the same business have similar stories to tell. Resolving a kidnap, by whichever means you choose, is rarely simple."

27. So said Mr. Keith Bloomfield, Head of the Counter Terrorism Policy Department at the British Foreign Office, while delivering a  speech on the " The Kidnapping Business"  at The Foreign Policy Centre at London on April 10, 2001. After pointing out that since 1997, the British Foreign Office had  dealt with 54 kidnap incidents involving over 100 British nationals in  Nigeria, Yemen, Sierra Leone, Chechnya, Georgia, Colombia,  Somalia, Bangladesh and many others, he explained the British strategy in dealing with an overseas kidnap situation as following:

* Keep in constant and close touch with the families of the hostages and the media and keep explaining the evolving situation to them.

* "Joined-up" thinking and co-ordinated action by all the Government departments  and agencies dealing with the situation.

* Have a nodal point in the Foreign Office to deal with all kidnap situations abroad and to ensure co-ordination.The Counter-Terrorism Policy Department (CTPD) of the Foreign Office plays this role.

* Effective liaison with foreign governments, international organisations and non-governmental organisations, which might be able to play a helpful role.

* Have frequent rehearsals of kidnap management even if there are no kidnaps so that all dramatis personae in the Government are aware of their respective roles if there is a kidnap.

* Employ a professional hostage consultant. According to him, the Foreign Office had  a former Metropolitan Police negotiator as its hostage consultant. He visited  vulnerable countries which expressed an interest in improving their response to kidnaps and spread best practice.

* Provide regular travel advice to British citizens traveling abroad on business or on holiday.

28. He concluded: "I think it is worth repeating that the safety of the hostages is always paramount in a kidnap situation. This is the first message which we ask our Ambassador or High Commissioner on the spot to pass immediately to the government of any country in which a British national is kidnapped. We also ask him or her to make clear our policies of not making substantive concessions to hostage-takers and not paying ransoms. These are non-negotiable as far as the British government is concerned. Giving in once would reward a serious crime, make it much harder to resist a second time, and would turn many parts of the world into "no-go" areas for British nationals."


29. His presentation has some valuable lessons for India. 

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter. E-Mail: )