Friday 24 May 2019

Westerners face new fears as Rory returns to his delighted family

TOBY HARNDEN IN BAGHDAD AS freed reporter Rory Carroll returns to the safety of his Dublin family today, sources have revealed that more Irish and British people in Iraq are living in fear of kidnap.

The threat has increased greatly since two SAS troopers clashed with police officers in Basra - and were rescued from insurgents.

An American official has revealed that the kidnapping of Guardian correspondent Rory, who was released on Thursday after being held for 36 hours, underlined the danger.

"If I were you, I would go now," the official said.

Meanwhile, Rory's family are trying to contain their excitement.

His father Joe said he expecting his 33-year-old son at his Blackrock home to see his mother Kathy and sister Karina after he flies in this afternoon.

And writing in the Guardian yesterday, Rory told how he was surrounded by gunmen and knew the moment of kidnap, a moment he "had dreaded", had arrived.

"A potential death sentence for Iraqi staff as well as the foreign correspondents who are the targets," he said.

"Since hostages started having their heads sawn off we have all been obsessed by it."

He said his captors bundled him into a car before one said: "Tawhid al-Jihad".

"Otherwise known as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al Qaida in Iraq, the beheaders of Ken Bigley. I stopped breathing."

And a British diplomat said that the trouble in Basra had led to the Medhi army issuing orders that at least two Britons should be kidnapped.

"Anyone considering remaining here does so at their own risk and needs to think very carefully about whether they can travel in the Red Zone," he said.

The Red Zone is the coalition term for everywhere in Iraq beyond the fortified Green Zone compound in Baghdad, the base of western and many Iraqi officials.

Irish and British journalists live in hotels outside the compound.

Carroll, 33, was abducted by gunmen after he left a house in Baladiyat, close to the Sadr City slum area of Baghdad, a stronghold of the Medhi army, a insurgent group made up of impoverished Shia.

He had been watching Saddam Hussein's trial on television as part of an interview arranged by the office of Moqtadr al-Sadr, the Medhi army leader.

His abductors had visited the house during the interview.

During his captivity, Carroll was told that his abduction was connected to the arrest by British troops in Basra of 12 members of the Medhi army.

A faction of the insurgent group was handed the two SAS men arrested by Iraqi police last month, necessitating their rescue.

"At one point I was told I would be used as a bargaining chip in exchange for al-Sadr people taken in Basra," Carroll wrote after his release.

A police car was involved in the kidnapping. He was freed after negotiations involving Ahmad Chalabi, a secular Shia with links to al-Sadr.

Several men were arrested by a specialist Iraqi police unit near the scene of the kidnapping, and it is understood that information gleaned from them helped to establish exactly who had taken him.

Diplomats said that no ransom payment was made but would not comment on whether anyone was released from police custody as part of the negotiations.

They indicated that Carroll's Irish citizenship might well have saved his life and those who planned the abduction had assumed that he was British.

Two Army Rangers were to travel with the Government party to Baghdad to advise on what type of military intervention would have been required to free Rory Carroll.

The Coalition forces are understood to have had good intelligence on where Rory was being held. He had been kidnapped from Sadr city where the American forces had previously clashed with the local militia, the so-called Mhadi Army.

The highly trained Army Ranger Wing is Ireland's main hostage rescue unit and would have given expert advise on the military options available.

However, with many American and British Special Forces on the ground in Iraq, including Britain's SAS and the American Delta unit, it was not planned to send a Ranger intervention team from Ireland to rescue Rory.

The two heavily armed Rangers would also have provided close protection to the Government team, who included two Arabic speaking officers from G-2, the secret Army intelligence unit, former Baghdad Ambassador Antoin MacUnfraidh, another Department of Foreign Affairs official, and a Garda superintendent from Garda HQ.

Rory said in his Guardian article yesterday that one of the kidnappers had told him they were from the group Ansar al-Sunna.

"The bad news was this was the group that killed an Italian journalist. The good news was this contradicted the driver. I suspected - hoped - they were winding me up."

Handcuffed, he was led out of the car and into a basement room five metres long, one metre wide, with a rug and a pillow.

He said he was well fed by his captors and, although treated like a "pet", was allowed to do press-ups.

After two nights in the cell, one of Carroll's kidnappers received a mobile phone call and the award-winning journalist was released.

Carroll earlier told RTE television how gunmen abducted him in Sadr City and attacked his driver and interpreter.

"We were driving down quiet streets when suddenly three vehicles came around the corner and sliced right in front of us to stop.

"About half a dozen gunmen jumped out of these vehicles and surrounded us.

"They pistol-whipped my driver and dragged the interpreter out of my car and they were beating him.

"Then I was forced at gunpoint out of the car into one of the unmarked cars that forced us off the road.

"I was handcuffed and then driven away at speed with my head shoved down in the back seat so that I couldn't see where I was going."

Carroll was freed on Thursday evening and was taken to a rendezvous point with Iraqi police.

He was transported to the offices in the fortified Green Zone of Iraqi deputy prime minister Ahmed Chalabi.

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