Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Worldwide Kidnap Report

LONDON Feb 17 (Reuters) - Kidnap and ransom trends are in constant flux, with Somali piracy and Mexican kidnapping on the up, while hostage-taking in Colombia and Iraq is in decline.

Below is an overview of global kidnap trends with estimates of the numbers of foreigners taken captive every month, compiled largely with information from risk consultancy AKE's quarterly kidnap and ransom report.


Somali pirates hijacking merchant ships in the Indian Ocean frequently take more foreigners hostage in a single month than all other kidnappers in the world combined. Experts estimate several hundred Somalis head out in small boats and increasingly on larger captured motherships, boarding vessels and sailing them to pirate havens. At any given time, the pirates are estimated to hold up to 700 hostages, mainly aboard their ships in worsening conditions. Ransoms have risen swiftly over the last year, with the record payment said to be $9 million for a Korean tanker late last year. The average settlement per ship is estimated to be $3-4 million, with ships usually held for more than 100 days. Shippers warn that despite international naval patrols, the problem is worsening to the extent ships may be forced to take a longer route around Africa, driving up costs.


Kidnapping in Mexico is rising swiftly. Most attacks target migrant workers from elsewhere in Central and Latin America. These range from "express kidnappings", in which the victim is taken to an ATM and forced to pay their own ransom, to abductions lasting up to about 60 days. Abductions of Mexicans are on the rise, but limited reporting makes estimating the numbers difficult. So far, Western nationals have not tended to be targeted. The upper limit for a payout has reportedly been $30 million.


While the dangers of piracy and attacks on shipping and oil platforms in the Gulf of Guinea pale in comparison to those in the Indian Ocean, the threat is seen growing particularly ahead of Nigeria's April 2011 elections. Attacks tend to be more violent than those from Somali pirates and the danger to crew higher. The average time in captivity is less than 30 days and ransoms vary from $10,000-$2 million.


Kidnapping of foreigners and locals continues to be a problem in Nigeria, particularly in the Niger Delta with the threat from both militants and armed gangs. Ransoms for foreign nationals range from $28,000-$204,000, with ransom payments for Nigerians generally less than $100,000. Time spent in captivity is varied, with the longest period some 465 days.


Kidnapping, particularly of aid staff in Sudan's Darfur region, is seen on the increase and is restricting relief operations. Charity workers, United Nations staff and African Union peacekeepers have all been targeted. The average time spent in captivity is 100 days. There is insufficient data to estimate average ransom payments for foreign nationals. Sudanese command ransoms of less than $100,000.


The risk of kidnap of foreigners, particularly aid staff, reduces relief work in Afghanistan. A particularly high proportion of kidnaps there ended in violent deaths, either through execution or during special forces rescue missions. Foreigners kidnapped and released alive can wait up to 300 days, with ransoms ranging from $300,000-$750,000. Some 5-10 Afghans are taken hostage each week with ransoms of less than $100,000.


Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) appears to have stepped up efforts to kidnap foreigners in North Africa's Sahel region, while local tribes have also used this as a revenue stream. Experts estimate kidnapping could have given $65 million to AQIM since 2005, the majority of its revenue stream. French forces have taken an increasingly aggressive approach with mixed results as they launch military rescue missions.


Both militant groups and criminal gangs kidnap Pakistanis and occasionally foreigners. Pakistanis are generally held for about 30 days for ransoms of about $50,000, while foreigners tend to be held for longer with the record being 500 days.


Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia each see on average slightly less than one foreign national kidnapped a month. In Congo, risks are seen highest in the east, with extractive industry staff and aid workers most at risk. The number of foreigners kidnapped in Somalia is low as so few operate there, but ransoms can be as high as $3 million and victims held for prolonged periods. There are fears kidnapped foreigners might be sold to al Qaeda-linked Islamist groups who might kill them for propaganda value or try to trade them for prisoner exchange.


Kidnappings of both foreigners and local Iraqis soared in the aftermath of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion but have since fallen sharply. Yemen is now seen as the Middle Eastern country in which foreigners are most at risk of kidnap.


Outside Pakistan and Afghanistan, the greatest danger of kidnap in Asia is seen in the Philippines. Islamist militants have targeted wealthy Chinese-Filipino businessmen and students.


Kidnapping in Colombia has fallen sharply due to disarray amongst militant groups, public anger at the tactic and better coordination by security forces. Kidnapping is seen on the increase in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.


The former Soviet Union is seen as having the highest risk of kidnap for foreigners, while a bad harvest has seen an increasing trend of farmers being kidnapped in an attempt to gain control of their grain stores. Short duration "tiger kidnaps" are becoming increasingly common in Western Europe due to the economic crisis, particularly in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. (Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Iraq Weekly Roundup

Levels of violence fell in Iraq last week, although at the time of writing militants have shot dead at least 27 police officers in a well-planned attack in Haditha. Not including this total, at least 36 people were killed and 41 injured in nationwide incidents last week. In general, levels of violence crept up in Iraq towards the end of February, although in total it was a relatively quiet month. The authorities reported a total of 151 fatalities, including 91 civilians, 39 policemen and 21 soldiers killed by militants during the month.

Last week a drop by almost half in the total of bomb attacks left 19 people dead and 35 injured countrywide. There were at least 18 such attacks, and no suicide bombings reported. There was no major change in the number of small arms attacks reported which left 11 people dead and three injured. Indirect fire attacks (rockets and mortars) left two dead and three injured. There were no abductions reported.

Distribution of Violence
Baghdad remains quieter than normal, although it still accounted for several of the week’s attacks, as did the northern city of Mosul where conditions appear to have gradually worsened once again over recent weeks. There were two shooting incidents reported in the normally secure Kurdish region last week, although they are believed to have been related to personal disputes rather than politics or ideology. At least one person was also killed in a landmine explosion to the north-east of Kirkuk, highlighting the ongoing risk posed by unexploded ordnance even in more secure parts of KRG territory.

NGO Warning
Otherwise, Iraqi nationals working for international organisations are also reminded to exercise caution and remain discreet when discussing their place of work in public after reports emerged that individuals had been threatened in Baghdad because of their affiliation with foreign groups.

Source: AKE

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Building Iraq's Military (Al-Akhbar, March 1)

The US Embassy in Baghdad announced earlier this week that the Iraqi army has received a new batch of Abrams tanks. It said that the US has already delivered 131 tanks to the army and is close to completing the full delivery of 140. The Iraqi defense ministry confirmed receiving them, adding that the Iraqi forces have completed their training in the new tanks.

But some parliament members said that they were surprised that the US Embassy is withholding the remaining tanks. These parliament members demanded an investigation be opened into why there were not delivered.

According to a US Embassy statement, however, "the nine remaining tanks are in Iraq, but in US possession...waiting for the arrival of certain components for these tanks so it can deliver a complete purchase to the Iraqi army in accordance with US government standards. As soon as the components arrive, OSC-I (Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq) will deliver the additional nine tanks to the Iraqi army. We expect this will take place within the coming weeks."

The delivery of the tanks comes as part of a major and long-term plan to allegedly arm the Iraqi military with modern US weapons. This is particularly important now that Iraq has the capacity to deploy a professional army based on voluntary, rather than obligatory, recruitment.

Although different numbers are floating around on the possible cost of the arms deal, the official estimate was declared by General Muhammad al-Askari, the defense ministry spokesman, who put it at US$13 billion.

Al-Askari said that the government has signed contracts with Washington that include the purchase of F-16 fighter jets, helicopters, tanks, warships, and light weapons.

Iraq had requested 18 F-16 fighter jets at US$2.5 billion, or US$150 million per jet, as the first installment for purchasing 100 F-16's.

But the weapons deal has been surrounded by controversy from its very inception.

Iraqi Kurdish leaders have expressed strong reservations in regards to arming the Iraqi military.Iraqi Kurdish leaders - recalling their bitter experiences with previous governments - have expressed strong reservations in regards to arming the Iraqi military with such modern weapons, fearing that the federal government might use them against the Kurds in the future.

Kurdish leaders have privately told media sources that they have asked the US administration to impose a condition on Baghdad that would ban its jets from flying over autonomous Kurdish airspace.

But the request was turned down, according to Iraqi air force commander, Lieutenant Anwar Hamad Amin, who said, "Our modern jets will carry out their flights over all Iraqi airspace, including the Kurdistan region, which is part of federal Iraq and its air space."

Iraqiya List leaders Ayad Allawi and Rafe al-Essawi have joined the front opposing the armament deal in a December 7 article in the The New York Times. But the third leader in the List, Osama al-Nujaifi, publicly distanced himself from this article, saying his name was inserted without his knowledge.

In the article, the two political leaders rejected arming Iraq's military and other security forces, saying "American assistance to Iraq's army, police, and intelligence services must be conditioned on those institutions being representative of the nation rather than one sect or party."

But these politicians' reservations have not had a direct or significant effect on the arms deal. Their positions are widely seen as motivated by political and sectarian considerations.

Externally, Kuwait was alone in opposing weapons sales to Iraq, citing its fears of a new invasion similar to Saddam Hussein's 1990 assault on the emirate.

Political sources said that the official Kuwaiti criticism came from the highest political levels. As a part of this criticism, they informed Washington of their opposition to the Iraqi purchase of F-16 fighter jets. When they failed to stop the deal, Kuwait requested written US assurances that these weapons will not be used against it in the future.

Many ordinary Iraqis have also expressed opposition to the armament campaign, dismayed by poor public services, deteriorating living conditions, and the breakdown of infrastructure.

Shortages in electricity and clean drinking water have become a major problem, which the government has repeatedly failed to address, except in the autonomous region of Kurdistan.

Analysts and politicians say that there is a public awareness of the need to build a professional army capable of defending the country and confronting security challenges that often claim the lives of civilians.

But some analysts view public opposition to arms expenditures as being directed at the government's priorities more than an explicit rejection of arming the military.

"There were purchase deals where the money was paid to some countries but the weapons never arrived."Other legitimate fears expressed by political and judicial circles surrounding these enormous arms deals stem from huge corruption cases related to previous arms deals, especially under Allawi's government. In 2005, then Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan was convicted and sentenced in absentia on charges of financial corruption involving the embezzlement of US$1.3 billion.

Military affairs experts point to examples of exposed corruption cases, including a US$25 million contract approved by Shaalan's ministry, when the real value of the deal did not exceed US$5 million. According to the online newspaper of the Iraqi National Congress, led by Ahmad Chalabi, the contract put the price of one purchased bullet at 16 cents, while its real value was 4 cents.

In a 2007 report by the late Marie Colvin in The Sunday Times, she quoted Iraqi sources and Western diplomats as saying that Shaalan was accused of embezzling US$800 million from the defense ministry's budget.

This amount was part of almost US$9 billion that went missing from the general Iraqi budget during the first years of the occupation. The Sunday Times quoted Judge Radi al-Radi, the former head of the commission that investigated the case, as saying that it was one of the biggest embezzlement operations in the world.

Other examples of corruption in the armament files, which have become a popular topic among Iraqis, include press exposures of a number of cases.

For example, the defense ministry signed a deal to purchase the latest MB5 rifles, each estimated at a cost of US$3,500, but instead imported poorly made, Egyptian-made copies valued at US$200 per rifle.

Another case involves a deal to "purchase Pakistani-made armored personnel carriers, which turned out to be so old that they can barely fend off Kalashnikov bullets, let alone the fact that their steering wheels are on the right hand side, not the left."

According to analysts and observers closely monitoring this issue, these Iraqi armament scandals do not absolve Maliki's current or previous government from responsibility.

"It seems that the opportunity has not yet arose to open these files and expose scandals of corruption, which will not be any less shocking than others under the Allawi and [Ibrahim] al-Jaafari governments," as one observer put it.

Meanwhile, the parliamentary security and defense committee has before it arms deals that date back to the days of Saddam Hussein.

"There were purchase deals where the money was paid to some countries but the weapons never arrived," MP Hakem al-Zameli said, adding, "We are examining and reviewing this matter."

Analysts say that Iraqis widely expect the next government to expose new facts and strike larger deals, but that bad services will remain unchanged and the infrastructure will only deteriorate further.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Iraq Weekly Roundup

After four weeks of declining violence, the number of attacks rose once again in Iraq last week. At least 53 people were killed and 245 injured in nationwide incidents, which is moderately high, albeit not as high as the figures of over 100 recorded at the beginning of the year.

A rise in the total number of bomb attacks left 39 people dead and 242 injured, particularly in Baghdad and the central provinces. A steady number of small arms fire attacks left 14 people dead and three injured, notably in the capital. There were no kidnappings or indirect fire attacks (rockets and mortars) recorded.

Central Violence
The central region saw the majority of attacks, especially around Ba’qubah and Baghdad. Mosul in the north has been unusually quiet for at least two weeks, raising concerns that militants in the area have been looking elsewhere to conduct attacks. The spate of bombings which took place in Iraq last week could indicate that they have turned their attention to the centre of the country, although there are also ongoing fears that some of the militants have also headed across the border into neighbouring Syria.

Crossing the Border
In Anbar province last week security force patrols and operations were stepped up in the province along the border with Syria amid fears of criminal and militant infiltration. However, while the Iraqi security forces are concerned about militants crossing from Syria into Iraq, it is more likely that greater numbers are going in the opposite direction.

There is mounting evidence that groups such as al-Qaeda are directing their efforts towards the collapsing regime on Iraq’s doorstep in the hope of being able to capitalise on the cover that the lawlessness in the country will afford them.

Source: AKE Group