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Lies for France’s Security

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Autor: Marina Constantinoiu 05 Aug 2005 - 00:00
Lies for France’s Security


It is very clear now why French journalist Florence Aubenas, captive in Iraq for 157 days, didn’t want to say she spent some time in captivity with the three Romanian journalists also held hostage there, Marie-Jeanne Ion, Ovidiu Ohanesian and Sorin Miscoci. French Magazine Le Nouvel Observateur gives us the reason in a complete article with details about whom, how and why the kidnappings in Iraq happened: the kidnappers’ threats.

At the end of March, it was all arranged. The French journalist from Liberation was to be finally freed. But the Romanian hostages came into the picture. The invisible leader of the kidnappers changed his plans. It all had to be taken from the beginning. This is the debut of a terrifying Poker deal, which started in Iraq and echoed through Paris and Bucharest. Here, in the two capitals, Sege Raffy from Nouvel Observateur retraced the entire story of the kidnapping of the French journalist Florence Aubenas and her Iraqi guide, Hussein Hanoun, as well as her Romanian colleagues.

INDIVIDUAL INVESTIGATION IN BUCHAREST Serge Raffy decided to come to Bucharest, to solve the mystery of the journalists’ kidnapping. Here, he met the "heroine of the most known kidnapping in the history of Romania": Marie-Jeanne Ion. While a passenger in the journalists’ BMW, the French pressman discovered an amazing fact in his opinion: the driver of another car was arguing with her and he didn’t even recognize her! Therefore, he ignores completely the fact she knew some of the details of this kidnapping. The wonder is explainable: at the end of May, she was the heroine of the country, showing a victorious attitude at the landing on the Bucharest airport after two months spent in an obscure and wet cellar in the South of Baghdad, together with Florence Aubenas.

FLASHBACKS FROM CAPTIVITY When they came into the country, Marie-Jeanne, Sorin and Ovidiu told us all about the joint captivity with Florence. Now, Marie-Jeanne tells Raffy that she wouldn’t have resisted for such a long time there without Florence. For him, she re-lives some of the critical times of the Iraqi captivity: the fire from a short-circuit, the kidnappers’ shouts, them being numbered and having to forget their names: Florence was number 6, Marie-Jeanne, 8, Hussein Hanoun, 5, Sorin, 11, Munaf, 3, and Ovidiu, 99. He suffered the most: when the kidnappers forced him to say his number. He couldn’t say it all the way. It was too long, too hard to pronounce. The sentence: a beating.

STUNNING STATEMENTS The Romanians were luckier: they were held there for only 55 days. Florence remained in the Iraqi cellar. For her, it lasted 157 days. However, the shock appears at her freeing: she answers "no" to all the questions regarding her captivity together with the Romanian journalists. Now, at the end of his Bucharest investigation, Raffy writes: "Behind the joy of coming back home, behind Florence’s shiny smile, behind her humor, and irony, this strange amnesia of her agitated all the waters".

COMMANDED AMNESIA Why did the French authorities force the journalist to have this strange amnesia? Very simple, says Raffy: they didn’t completely end the negotiations with the kidnappers’ leader, who was threatening to kill the other hostages from that place, if Florence talked too much to the press. A very rare fact in taking hostages: the famous "Boss", the kidnappers’ leader, continued calling his mediators at the French Embassy after the freeing of the hostage. He continued on threatening France. Therefore, a double prudence was needed, he shouldn’t have been provoked. "Finally, for a few days, he didn’t make any calls, like everything ended", Raffy says, announcing that Nouvel Observateur is able to unveil his true identity.

BOSS His name, as it was also told in the Romanian press immediately after the freeing of our fellows, is Khaled Al-Akydyi. His war name: Abu Sahar. But he is also called Hakin Ziab Hamid Al-Samarai. The hostages called him "Boss".

At the Beginning of February, after a three-week long quietness, he phoned the French authorities. At that time, the secret services had more leads. The mediators, who pretended to bring them to the kidnappers, manifested. Boss also introduced himself as a mediator, but not as a leader. He seemed quite nervous on the phone. He was continuously insulting. He tried to impress.

This technique, the use of threats and insults, the reason for which the French called him the "Hog", introduced him as a rather untrusty person. He left the impression of being a little perturbed, a little uncontrollable. In time, during the negotiations, they found out he was a master in changing his voice.

However, the secret services realized he had a device that changed the vocal frequencies. He was under the impression of not being taken into consideration, so, on the 6th of February, he paid a visit to Florence in the cellar and complained about his contacts with the French. "It was already March when we realized he might have been a key-person", a clerk who followed the file says.

THE ROMANIANS, HOSTAGES BY AN ARRANGEMENT
The coming of the Romanian hostages in the Iraqi cellar wasn’t predicted. "For them, Boss, aka Sahar, aka Saad, aka Zahir, had prepared another scenario. Someone called Abdel Jabar Al-Slimani (also called Hadji) proposed him a combination, which would have resulted in money for the both. He has been arrested on the 11th of April and interrogated by Romanian Prosecutor Ciprian Nastasiu on the 20th of May. The one who ordered the operation is, as told, Syrian Omar Hayssam, the controversial businessman, who, after the election of Traian Basescu as President, was looking for a new aura. According to an excerpt of the interrogatory, Al Slimani admitted he "was asked to kidnap the journalists". "The Romanian press smelled a possible fake kidnapping. Some of the newspapers even involved the journalists. Marie-Jeanne was supposed to be Hayssam’s lover. (…) The journalists are out of the scheme. Omar has only sponsored them. This is quite normal in Romania, since the newspapers cannot finance the feature reports from abroad. Some of the reporters accept this kind of risky barter", Raffy writes.

NEGOTIATIONS WITH THE ROMANIANS
At the beginning of April, when it all came to light, Boss panicked. Some kidnapers would have wanted to get rid of the "Romanian trouble", by freeing the journalists. But Boss decided to transform them into political hostages. Boss decided to keep them as hostages and to make political claims, due to Romania having troops in Iraq. Therefore, the hostages spoiled in the first few days became enemies and the fake kidnapping set up from Bucharest became a real Iraqi kidnapping. The conclusion: the captivity in the cellar, in the imposed conditions. Marie-Jeanne Ion and Mohamed Munaf have tried to convince the guards they were married, because she was afraid of being raped. Abu Sahar has focused afterwards on the negotiations with the Romanians, to get rid of our journalists quickly, and the French have actually lost contact with him.

FRENCH-ROMANIAN DEBRIEFING
After the freeing of the Romanian journalists, during their debriefing on the 24th of May, agents of the French secret services were also present to be convinced of the fact that Florence Aubenas had been in the same cellar. They have also wanted to know whether Boss was "an expert in "fixed" kidnappings". He has re-contacted the French authorities at the end of May. During the last days before Aubenas’s freeing, he directly contacted the French ambassador in Baghdad. Sources of the French secret services say he told Aubenas on the departure: "Next time you come to Iraq, give me a call. We set-up a fake kidnapping and split the money". Nouvel Observateur concludes that Boss is certainly a member of the police of the Saddam Hussein regime. The magazine also says that, according to some new information, the cellar where the hostages were held, a simple cellar of a house inhabited by a simple family, is now empty and it seems that Abu Sahaar has quit.

THE BOUTIQUE
After the 11th of April, the Iraqi investigators identified a store from the Al-Jamia neighborhood, the place where Boss was buying his phones - the Al-Kalm Al Taib boutique, whose owner he was. He was continuously changing his phones, said he was going here and there to be able to disappear, and then he appeared again. In a very short period, information had been collected in Bucharest and in Paris and it clearly resulted that the kidnappers were led by the same person. Mixed working groups, composed of police officers and judges, were formed.
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