Thursday, May 05, 2005

Secret Aubenas Ransom Imminent?

Is the French government about to make a ransom payment to secure the release of Florence Aubenas, the French journalist kidnapped on January 5th in Baghdad? The Italian government reportedly paid six to eight million dollars in ransom to obtain the release of communist propagandist Giuliana Sgrena, money that will undoubtedly be used to buy weapons to kill US troops. Sgrena's release lead to the infamous friendly fire incident in which Italian secret service agent Nicola Calipari was killed; in large part because the Italian government did not coordinate the release with US military authorities. The US, as a matter of policy, does not sanction negotiations with terrorists. The Italians didn't want to advertise the fact that they were flouting this policy.

Now, after weeks of silence about Florence Aubenas, there are suddenly whispers in the press about "secret" French efforts to win her release.

From News 24 (Australia):
The French government has been leading a secret effort to free Aubenas. Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said last month that French officials are facing "difficult conditions" largely because of violence on the ground.
From Pravda:
The French government has mobilized a team of more than 100 people to secure the release of a kidnapped reporter in Iraq and has made stable but intermittent contact in the case, the prime minister said Tuesday.

Jean-Pierre Raffarin did not specify with whom officials were communicating, but told parliament that contacts had been established in efforts to free Florence Aubenas.
And this, from the Sydney Morning Herald (Australia):
Mr Zadaan revealed he had been asked by an activist group in France to help rescue French journalist Florence Aubenas, who disappeared in Baghdad on January 5.

Mr Zadaan was named as a Sunni contender for deputy prime minister in the new government, but as one of Saddam's generals he was sidelined after a vitriolic Shiite campaign that included this memorable quote from the high-profile Shiite Ahmed Chalabi: "Bring back Uday and Qusay [Saddam's sons], but never Zadaan."

However, as a sheikh of the Al-Lehabi tribe and a towering figure in Saddam's military, Mr Zadaan has a vast network of tribal contacts, particularly among Sunnis who back the insurgency, and of former military men, who are often assumed to be the organisational backbone of the armed opposition. Also, his National Iraqi Dialogue Committee claims to have 264 offices across the country.
Hassan Zadaan is a mysterious figure who doesn't even show up in news records until May 3, 2005. The last thing our troops need is another half-baked ransom episode that transfers millions of dollars into the hands of the terrorist insurgency.

In the News 24 story cited above, it's also noted that a poll shows that 60% of the French think their journalists should stay out of Iraq. Finally, something I can agree with them about.