Florence Aubenas is free
The top story in France is that Florence Aubenas and Hussein Hanoun al-Saadi are free after 157 days as hostages. Last March I posted about Ms Aubenas, the Libération journalist and war correspondent who was taken hostage on January 5, along with Mr. Hanoun, her guide and interpreter.
While Ms Aubenas has declared that she was beaten by her captors, and was kept blindfolded in a basement cell that measured 4m by 2m (13ft by 6ft) along with several other hostages, Mr. Hanoun claims he wasn’t mistreated,
Al-Saadi, in an interview published Monday in daily Le Monde, described the hostage-takers as Sunni Muslims from Iraq’s Salafist movement, and said they did not mistreat him, but said he lost nearly eight pounds because he had no appetite.
. . .
A former Iraqi fighter pilot who learned the French language and how to fly French-made Mirage jets in France in the mid-1980s, al-Saadi said his captors didn’t seem to care that he was a Shiite, as long as he opposed “the American occupation of Iraq.”
One could assume he’d be very careful of what he states in public, since he was reunited with his family in Baghdad, unlike Ms Aubenas, who returned to France.
Ms Aubenas was interviewed by TV5
The official negotiations had been conducted under the administration of Mr. Chirac’s former prime minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, and the former foreign minister, Michel Barnier, both of which were replaced by Dominique de Villepin and Philippe Douste-Blazy on May 31, following the “non” vote on the EU referendum.
Liberation director Serge July, in an editorial Monday, called the captors “professionals in kidnapping, who hold an important – if not central – role in the atrocious market for hostages” in Iraq. He did not elaborate.
One of the questions is, to what extent has Didier Julia been involved. Julia’s contacts in Syria, and his obtrusive presence in the news place him in the middle of the story, but at least not as embarassingly as he was in the George Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot kidnapping rescue fiasco. Ms Aubenas, in the video released by her still unidentified captors last March, had asked for Mr. Julia’s help. Libération, in its special edition coverage, (you can read a summary here),
spoke of an intermediary, dubbed “The Imprecator” and the troubled role of maverick French deputy Didier Julia, known for his contacts with Syria and the former Baathist regime in Iraq.
Two of Julia’s assistants are facing criminal prosecution for harming the interests of the state after an abortive bid to free two other French journalists last September. The pair were later released into French government hands.
“The Imprecator was one of the first to make contact with the French authorities (in January) to present demands deemed ‘exorbitant’,” the paper said.
By late April the Imprecator, so-called because of his yelling, threatening style of negotiation, was being seen “more and more as a key figure,” according to Liberation.
Negotiations became complicated because “the group holding Florence and Hussein appeared divided or were implementing several plans and intermediaries at the same time”.
Associates of maverick ruling party deputy Julia had repeatedly announced the “imminent release” of Aubenas, and would subsequently accuse the French government of missing a golden opportunity to do so, the paper said.
This France2 article specifically says, Elle a aussi précisé que le chef des geôliers lui a dit avoir parlé directement à Julia. “She specifically said that the chief jailer (of the kidnappers) spoke directly to Julia.”
Last March I asked,
Is this a second attempt by Syria to, as the JDD article stated last year when analyzing the prior kidnapping, “force Paris to agree to some of its conditions in order to obtain a release”? Considering the Didier Julia connection to Syria, and how Ms Aubenas is pleading for his help, it’s not far-fetched to assume it is.
Syria, under increasing international pressure, possibly plays an important part in the kidnapping and release of hostages.
Other persons were held in the same basement as Ms Aubenas, but she has declined to comment on their status, for obvious reasons. Three Rumanian hostages who were released three weeks ago apparently were held in the same cell. Additionally,
Reporters from the Romanian newspaper “Cotidianul” wrote that the three Romanin journalists and their guide were kept in the same cell with Florence Aubenas and Hussein Hanoun, but also with five other Iraqi men who had been kidnapped for having collaborated with Coalition Forces.
The same newspaper said the release of the 6 hostages is also due to the actions of a secret network of former Iraqi students who had been recruited by the Romanian Secret Services during the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu.
The Ransom Issue
General Secretary of the organization Reportes sans Frontiers, Robert Menard, declared that in the previous weeks after the abduction of the French journalist and her assistant, the intermediaries of the kidnappers asked for $ 15 million in exchange for their release. Menard sustained there is no hostage release without offering something in exchange. The French Ministery of External Affairs denied Menard’s allegations.
What was offered in exchange will remain a mystery. Libération says The ransom: logical but not proven conclusion (article in French). Instead of a monetary ransom, were there French foreign policy concessions in the offer?
Also posted at Blogger News Network
Update Welcome, Jawa Report visitors.
Additional comment Yet another issue that might be related, or not, to the release of these hostages is that Chirac clearly supported the family of Hariri when Hariri was murdered in Lebanon. The murder of Hariri was interpreted as
“a response to UN security council resolution 1559 voted in September at the initiative of France and the US. It was Jacques Chirac who was the real architect of the resolution,” he [Antoine Sfeir, director of the Cahiers de l’Orient newsletter] said.
Resolution 1559 calls for the withdrawal of Syria’s estimated 15,000 troops from Lebanon and the re-establishment of full Lebanese sovereignty.”
Now that a pro-Syrian candidate has been elected in Lebanon in the first round of the election, it makes me wonder if Chirac contemplated any kind of deal regarding Lebanon-Syria-hostage release.
Related post here.