Monday, September 06, 2004

Iraqi Captors Want Money, Surrender

The Australian (hat tip: Command Post) reports that the Iraqi captors of two French reporters have posted new demands for their release on a Jihadi website:

A STATEMENT purportedly from the captors of two French journalists in Iraq gave France 48 hours from today to accept three new conditions - agreeing to a recent truce offer by Osama bin Laden, payment of $US5 million ($7.26 million) ransom and a pledge not to get involved in Iraq.

The Islamic Army of Iraq has decided to make "the following demands to release the two French hostages", said a statement signed by the group's "higher command" and posted on an Islamist website.

The statement, whose authenticity could not be confirmed, listed the demands as "accepting a truce between them and Sheikh Osama bin Laden, paying a $US5 million ransom and pledging not to engage militarily and commercially in Iraq."

"You have a maximum of 48 hours to accept these demands," said the statement, which seemed partly addressed to other Western governments as well as France.

In a taped message broadcast by Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television on April 15, bin Laden offered peace to European countries that refrained from attacks against Muslims and pulled their troops out of the Islamic world within three months.

European leaders promptly dismissed the offer, saying the idea of negotiating with bin Laden was absurd.

Christian Chesnot of Radio France Internationale, Georges Malbrunot of the daily Le Figaro and their Syrian driver were taken hostage on August 20 by the Islamic Army of Iraq, which demanded that France rescind a ban on Islamic headscarves in state schools.

France refused the demand and implemented the ban last Thursday at the beginning of the new academic year.

"Beware of bombing us as you did in Latifiya, on the day we meant to hand them (hostages) over," the statement said. That was a reference to a major assault on Saturday by Iraqi police and national guardsmen, assisted by United States forces, on the no-go zone of Latifiya, a bastion of the Sunni Muslim insurgency south of Baghdad.

A senior cleric from the strict Wahhabi current of Islam in Iraq yesterday issued a fatwa (Islamic decree) demanding the captors of the two French reporters free them immediately.

But Sheikh Mehdi al-Sumaidaie, an influential figure among the extremist Sunni organisations responsible for the bulk of kidnappings in Iraq lately, also lambasted the Iraqi government and US forces for staging the Latifiya raid in the area where the pair was kidnapped, saying it had harmed efforts for their release.

"The attack on Latifiya disrupted the process of their release," he said.

French officials today urged patience and caution, tempering the optimism expressed at the weekend that the newsmen would soon be released.

"We have reliable indications that allow us to believe that they are in good health and that their release is possible," Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie told French LCI television.

"But as long as the hostages are being held and are still in Iraq, we must be extremely cautious," she added. "The less we say, the better it is for them."
So, while attempting to drive a wedge between France and the United States (don't these people watch Fox?) they've seemingly given up on their demand to repeal the ban on headscarves in France, now that the law has entered into effect. So now they just want money and the acceptance of a truce offered by Bin Laden (whose ultimatum also expired some two months ago) and, oh, the money please.

In a way, this is good news. Captors that start to renegotiate demands they first put forward, even though seemingly they upped the ante, is always a sign of weakness. It's very possible that they feel the US Army breathe down their necks, and will probably want to lose them as quickly as possible.

Only problem of course is that paying money for their release can be tempting to the French. Let's hope the Marines get to them first.