Deadly twist in
hostage-taking By Charles Recknagel
The beheading of American civil engineer Eugene
Armstrong - with a video of his death released on Monday
on the Internet by his captors - is gruesome testimony
that the nature of hostage-taking in Iraq has changed.
Increasingly, more Westerners are being
targeted. Three of the most recent hostages are
Amstrong, now dead, Jack Hensley, and Ken Bigley, who
worked installing and furnishing camps at the US-led
coalition's Taji base. Previously, most of those
kidnapped were drivers or lower-level employees of
companies doing non-military work under contract to
US-led forces in Iraq.
The Islamic group
Jamaat al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (Monotheism and Holy War), has
claimed responsibility for the beheading of Armstrong,
as well as other hostages, including American contractor
Nicholas Berg, in May, and South Korean driver Kim
Sun-il, in June. Tawhid is led by Jordanian-born
extremist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi - who US officials say
is associated with al-Qaeda.
The group claims
that it will behead Hensley and Bigley unless the US
government meets the group's demand to release all
Muslim women from US military jails in Iraq.
Hensley and Armstrong are American contractors.
Bigley is a British engineer. All three men were
kidnapped last week in a dawn raid by unidentified armed
men who broke into the house where they were living in
The kidnapping of the three was
the second attack this month on Westerners residing in
the capital. Gunmen seized two female Italian charity
workers - Simona Pari and Simona Torretta - and their
Iraqi aides in a daylight attack on their central
Baghdad office two weeks ago.
seizures, the hostages' families have appealed for their
release. Several have said their relatives were working
in Iraq out of a genuine interest in helping the
country. "His love of the area is what has kept him
there for so many years and the reason he was prepared
to help in Baghdad where many others would have been too
worried about their own safety. He wanted to help the
ordinary Iraqi people and he is just doing his job,"
said Phillip Bigley, Ken's brother.
A spokesman for the
US military, Lieutenant-Colonel Barry Johnson, says US forces are not holding
any women and that "the only females we hold
are two high-value detainees". These are believed to
be female scientists who worked in weapons-of-mass-destruction development
programs under Saddam Hussein.
In the wake of
the recent kidnappings of Europeans and Americans, all
of the hostages' governments have vowed not to be
intimidated by the attacks.
Prime Minister Tony Blair said the hostage-takers hope to
stop Iraq's transformation into a stable, more
democratic society - but will be defeated. "The people
that are trying to stop Iraq coming about - who are
engaged in kidnapping and killing and murder and acts of
terrorism - are opposed not just to the new Iraq that
could take shape, but are opposed to every single one of
the values that we in countries like this hold dear."
Blair spoke during a joint press conference in
London with visiting interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad
Still, the widening abductions in Iraq
have forced most foreign non-governmental organizations
(NGOs) and some business firms to withdraw from the
country. Joost Hiltermann is regional head for the
International Crisis Group in Amman. He says the foreign
staff of most NGOs - apart from those in the
Kurdish-controlled north - have now left Iraq.
"NGOs have withdrawn, especially after the
kidnapping in broad daylight from their office of the
two Italian aid workers and their Iraqi aides and many
[NGOs] have withdrawn to Jordan, where already a number
of NGOs have been based since the situation deteriorated
in April. And they are now operating their activities by
remote control, using their Iraqi staff to the extent
that they are able to move at the moment."
Hiltermann says some regional companies
- particularly those engaged in transportation - also
have withdrawn from Iraq, sometimes in deals to secure
the release of their drivers. But he says most
companies continue trying to work in the country because
the potential profits are too great to resist.
"By and large, the sums of money to be gained
are so high, the business in Iraq is still so lucrative,
that many companies will stay. Obviously, part of their
profits will go to security guards to protect their
convoys and their facilities. And so a number of
contractors are able to stay simply because they feel
sufficiently protected still where they are. And they
don't venture out too much and when they do they go in
heavily armed convoys. Some of the US contractors, for
example, now are spending up to 25% of their contract on
Since the wave of kidnappings began
in April, more than 100 foreigners and countless Iraqis
have been abducted. Many hostages have been freed, some
for ransom, but at least 30 foreign hostages have been
The wave of kidnappings this week also
extended to Iraq's security forces as one Islamist group
claimed to have taken 18 soldiers captive in an attack
on the National Guard. The group displayed its uniformed
captives in a video and threatened to kill them unless
the Iraqi government freed an aide to Shi'ite cleric