Mar 7, 2014
They’re Kidnapping People for Money in Syria
Posted on Aug 11, 2013
The Syrian civil war has given rise to a wave of kidnappings and ransoms as desperate members of the opposition movement struggle to support themselves and their cause, Patrick Cockburn writes at The Independent.
Coupled with its inability to provide basic security, the opposition’s horrific hostage-taking is working to discredit the movement in the eyes of locals and its would-be supporters abroad, making Bashar al-Assad’s regime seem desirable by comparison. “The methods of a police state begin to appear acceptable if they mean that your children can go to school in safety,” Cockburn writes.
The rise of kidnappings has sent waves of terror throughout areas belonging to all social classes, but mostly in rebel zones. “People are more terrified by an ever-present risk that they, their children or other relatives may be kidnapped than they are by a more momentary fear of being hit by a shell, a bomb or a bullet.” These crimes often take place in the shadows. Perpetrators don’t want to be caught, and wealthy victims don’t want to be identified out of fear they will be targeted again.
“[M]ost abductions are carried out by criminal gangs working for profit,” Cockburn writes. Sometimes they are “tit-for-tat actions between hostile communities, either as a form of vengeance or to enable an exchange of hostages for a person held by the other side.” Sometimes it can be difficult to tell whether a person was seized for commercial or political reasons.
Peter Bouckaert, the Geneva-based emergencies director of Human Rights Watch, told the website Syria Deeply that abductions are on the increase: “The kidnappings have been going on for about a year,” he said. “It’s really intensified. It started mostly when fighting broke out in Aleppo, and has developed and grown since then into a broader trend across many parts of Syria, and is also spilling into neighbouring countries.”
Kidnapping gangs are becoming better organized in a way Cockburn says parallels the situation in Iraq in 2003. Informants were offered cuts of a ransom for identifying vulnerable and lucrative targets, and people selling houses in Baghdad would “do so without publicity because neither the seller nor the buyer wants it known that a large sum of money is about to change hands.” Wealthy doctors were favorite targets because kidnappers could gain easy access to them by pretending to need medical attention.
—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.
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