THE LEVANT NEWS EXCLUSIVE – By Jassim Muhammad* —
The American “Wall Street Journal” has mentioned that ransom monies collected by Extremist groups in the Middle East, North Africa, and USA are estimated at $120 million from 2012 to 2014 and that Yemen’s al Qaeda branch alone has collected at least $20 million.
In one of its reports, the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada revealed that in 2013 the center dealt with 234 cases of terrorist activity financing. Meanwhile, one of the CIA reports has estimated that ISIS income from ransom in return for releasing hostages has reached $24 million USD in 2014.
Foreigners kidnapping operations have become the principle source of financing for the terrorist groups operating in Syria. The most significant operations are as follow:
In August 2013, the armed groups kidnapped Jonathan Alpeyrie a Franco-US photographer at a checkpoint. He was held for more than two months. Weeks following his release and return to New York, Alpeyrie said that he was captured at one of the armed groups’ checkpoints on the Rankos road north of Damascus, after being “betrayed” and “sold” by a local translator and his companion.
Similarly, on July 2013, sources reported that fighters had kidnapped the Polish Journalist Martin Söder from a media center.
In the same context, the Italian Judicial authority has ordered to conduct investigations relating the efforts done by certain intelligence parties in order to push for paying considerable amounts of money for the release of two Italian hostages in Syria, a report published on the website of the Italian Newspaper “Il Tempo” revealed on October 9, 2015. Unknown sources revealed that the dissolved Italian Military Intelligence apparatus has played a decisive role in releasing number of European and American hostages between 2004 and 2006, through paying considerable amount of monies to kidnappers and Jihadist movements abroad, specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan. Rome have been already paying ransoms to Jihadist movements for the release of the two Italian hostages, perhaps it was in coordination with French and Americans on the basis that these extremist groups believe that failing to pay the ransom means killing the hostages.
ISIS resorts to kidnapping operations and hostages’ trafficking in order to collect ransoms. Recently, ISIS started to sell its hostages instead of killing as result of financial pressures due to the strikes by the western alliance.
The case of al-Kasasbeh: the way the Moaz al-Kasasbeh the Jordanian pilot was executed was considered as a precedent for the Jihadist and armed groups. However, the Jordanian intelligence apparatus has obtained information that the pilot was executed on the 3rd of January 2015. The Jordanian government has been avoiding releasing this information for reasons pertaining to respecting the feelings of the martyr’s family and the Jordanian people. Based on the information, the Jordanian government during its negotiations with the terrorist organization has been requesting the latter, repeatedly, to affirm that al-Kasasbeh still alive. The reason why the terrorist organization has executed al-Kasasbeh is probably for revenge and alleviating fighters’ distress after number of al-Qaeda leaders were killed in al-Anbar. Some analysis revealed that the terrorist organization rushed to kill the pilot in order to avoid internal differences related to Sharia’ in dealing with the hostage al-Kasasbeh. The fact is that the terrorist organization decided to keep the execution of the hostage secret in order to obtain media and international attention while avoiding internal disagreements and splits among members of the organization.
The release of Yazidi captives from ISIS grip
ISIS occupied Mosul city on July 2014, announcing the beginning of demographic, ethnic and sectarian change in the city and its neighboring cities. The Christians, Yezidis and Shia’ were the most affected communities by this occupation. ISIS displaced Yazidis, captivating their women, seizing their properties, kidnapping number of their women, girls and children. Moreover, sources reported that ISIS is holding more than five thousands Yazidi women for trafficking purposes. The main target of Yazidi community was to release their captives of women and children.
Therefore, the release of women was through sudden military operations on some of Mosul’s villages and cities. The Iraqi government and Kurdistan regional government worked together to implement some operations after securing cover by warplanes. Some of the captured Yazidi women were able to runaway after some of the Yazidi sites were targeted by aerial bombardment.
Yet, in addition to the military attempts aiming at releasing the Yazidi women, there were also information and negotiable efforts which represented the most difficult part.
Officials in Iraq’s Kurdish region, where most survivors wound up, have tallied roughly that as many as 1,200 were killed, 840 are still missing and 4,500 were taken as slaves. Other local activists also tracking the crisis have come up with similar numbers.
According to statistics published by the Office of Yazidi Affairs more than 4,500 of the Yazidi community living in Nineveh near the Iraqi – Syrian border were taken as slaves by ISIS during the month of August 2014, after the terrorist organization seized their regions in Sinjar. The office also revealed that 1,280 Yazidis have been killed. The office says that some 1,700 Yazidis of the total number 4,500 had been rescued.
In an exclusive interview with one of the persons in charge of freeing Yazidi women from ISIS grip, he explained that planning and implementation process are done by a special office supervised by prominent Yazidi figures. The office obtains undeclared financial support from the Kurdish regional government and it also depends on personal initiatives through citizens donations.
In this context, Abu Shujaa, a Yazidi tradesman, has emerged in Sinjar city and established a network of activists, inside the regions under ISIS control, aimed at identifying the locations were the captured women exist. As businessman, Abu Shujaa used his contacts in Syria and Turkey in order to establish this network which succeeded in freeing hundreds of kidnapped women, mostly in al-Raqqah.
1- According to statistics released by the Office of Freeing Yazidi Women in Mosul city of Iraq: the number of captives reached 5,838, survivors 2,204 as of 05/10/2015, among them 310 men, 832 women, 520 female children less than 18 years old, and the 542 male children less than 18 years old.
2- Meanwhile, the numbers of kidnapped who remained under ISIS grip are as follow: 759 of women, 2875 of men, the number of killed persons reached 1,280 and the missing 840.
The Mechanisms followed by the Office for Yazidi Women Rescue
1- Research and Investigation about the location of the kidnapped.
2- Assign a mediator or a human trafficker to complete the operation.
3- The mediators’ main mission is to make deal with the organization where the Yazidi women are under their control.
Methods of Payment
1- Upon receiving accurate information about the kidnapped person through his relatives or one of the mediators, the office checks the name of the captured in the computer.
2- Investigations are conducted to verify if the person in question is really kidnapped in order to move to the next step relating to negotiations over the requested amount of money.
3- After reaching agreement over the amount of money, the hostage must be present in the office during the payment process to the member of the terrorist organization.
4- Upon his arrival to the office, a committee of three members and a person from the side of the released person, and the kidnapped himself must sign on the receipt.
5- The office also provide the hostages with identification documents, and psychological treatment.
The operations of freeing Yazidi captured women are subject to blackmail and fraud by the mediators, some of mediators are assassinated by ISIS after they are paid part of the amount. But nevertheless, there are mutual efforts by organizations and individuals, in addition to those of the Kurdish regional government and Baghdad aimed at rescuing the Yazidi women for human purposes.
Most of ransom payments and hostages exchange are made through a third party. From intelligence side, France is considered one of the most countries involved in paying ransoms to turn back its hostages. Meanwhile, Qatar is considered one of the most mediator countries that played a key role in the negotiations of hostages due to its ties with some of the extremist groups, while Turkey comes after Qatar as mediator in this issue.
Translated by Mirvat Sibaii.