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'Only diplomacy will work'

July 22, 2004

A July 21 statement issued by a hitherto unknown terrorist group calling itself 'The Holders of the Black Banners' claimed it had taken six truck drivers -- three Indians, two Kenyans and an Egyptian -- as hostages, says Associated Press.

The group threatened to behead one of them every 72 hours if their countries did not immediately announce the withdrawal of their citizens from Iraq and if the company they work for (said to be Kuwaiti) did not close its branch in Iraq.

Natwar condemns abduction

'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 said. 'Here you are once again transporting goods, weapons and military equipment that backs the US Army.'

In photos provided to 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 -- 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.

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 why.

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

'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 said.

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.

'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.

All 18 stranded Indians leave Iraq

Apart from the 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.

The kidnappings have been followed by threats to behead the hostages if their demands are not met. These demands included the withdrawal of the troops of the countries to which some of the hostages belonged, the withdrawal of civilians from their countries working in Iraq, or the stoppage of their company's support to the Americans in Iraq.

The objective appears to be to disrupt the logistic services of the US troops, foment divisions 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.

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 actually carried out. All of them were Christians. One Bulgarian was also reported to have been beheaded, but this has not been confirmed.

Two Turks and a Pakistani were released. It is believed that their being Muslims played a role in the decision of the terrorists to release them unharmed. There have been some other releases also, including 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 Muslim would not protect them if they helped the Americans.

Indians carry horror tales from US camps

On June 25, Amjad Hafeez, a Pakistani national from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, 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 the demand. However, the terrorists released him on July 2 after televised appeals made by President Pervez Musharraf and the mother of the hostage.

After his return to Pakistan, he told the Voice of America in an interview that he witnessed his captors killing three other hostages, and that he was spared only 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.

The terrorists initially accused him of being a US spy and were disinclined to believe that he was a true Muslim. Only after seeing him pray did they accept that he was a true Muslim and release him, he said.

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

Subsequently, the Zarqawi group kidnapped two Bulgarian and a Filipino truck driver. 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 and withdrew the Filipino troops based there. Though the Filipino was freed, Manila continues to be concerned over the situation in Iraq, where about 4,100 Filipinos are working for private contractors who provide and ferry rations to the US troops.

The Bulgarian government too 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.

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 coordinator 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.

Slide show: Anarchy in Baghdad

What is probably happening is that the Zarqawi group (which is the most well-organised and well-motivated outfit comprising 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-Tayiba --in a united front of Iraqi resistance groups similar to bin Laden's International Islamic Front.

Other groups which have claimed responsibility for the past kidnappings include 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 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 several attacks on US troops.

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.

India rules out sending troops to Iraq

The successful termination of the situation would depend on the cooperation 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 Indian government against the illegal recruitment of Indians by regional contractors for working in Iraq.

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