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Pay money

"Pay money" Continued...

Issue: "Obama," Nov. 15, 2008

With the rise since early October of violence in Mosul and surrounding areas, including targeted killings of Christians, comes the revived threat of kidnappings and renewed debate about whether ransom payments actually fuel more terrorist activity.

In February of this year, unknown terrorists kidnapped the prominent Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, Paulos Faraj Rahho, and held him for two weeks before friends found his body in a shallow grave near Mosul. Only later did they discover that the terrorists had extorted protection money from Rahho, which was paid out of the tithes given to the Chaldean Catholic church. When Rahho stopped the payments, the terrorists presumably nabbed him and demanded $3 million for his release. Rahho asked that the ransom not be paid, and church colleagues later said, "He believed that this money would not be paid for good works and would be used for killing and more evil actions."

But paying ransom has become almost commonplace, and upfront protection money, while less noted, is also not uncommon. One father from Mosul, now living in Syria, told WORLD he paid protection money for months to prevent two sons from being kidnapped. When the money ran out, the family fled.

U.S. military commanders now say that the Za'ab triangle-the area between Mosul/Nineveh Plain, Kirkuk, and Salahuddin-is perhaps the last worst area of violence in Iraq. It's a transit area for up to 12 insurgent groups with ties to al-Qaeda or former Baathists. U.S. forces believe it will take more cooperation from locals, as happened in Baghdad and Anbar province, to defeat them. So last month Brig. Gen. Tony Thomas, U.S. commander in Nineveh province, met with church leaders and up to 60 families who have taken refuge in a monastery north of Mosul. He promised, "I will give you a guarantee: I will crush them. I will crush whoever it is."

But the church leaders were reluctant to tell him who they think is behind attacks and instead blamed the authorities for failing to provide enough security. Shamuel agrees. In 1975 his father received a threatening letter, saying his children would be orphaned if he did not stop selling alcohol. "All he did was to bring the letter to the police station, action was taken, and he died 21 years later of old age."

Shamuel added, "Although we did not agree with the policies of the prior regime there was a rule of law that controlled the fundamentalists. The absence of rule of law following 2003 created a security vacuum and gave fundamentalists, terrorists, and criminals the upper hand to do what they please."

In the absence of security, Christians say they are in effect forced to pay jizya, the historic tax required under Islamic law for non-Muslims living under the "protection" of Muslims. Shamuel said he believes many businesses, as well as clergy, even now may be paying. "Do I think it is right? Well, of course not. But if I am a church leader and my obligation and duty is to protect my congregation, and it is the only way to do that, I think I am obligated to pay money."

In captivity Yousif and his driver were moved from location to location in the desert. Albert and Wilson, working by cell phones, negotiated day and night for three days in a bid to raise the ransom money while lowering the kidnappers' demands. "The first day we raised $6,000, by the end of the second day it was $10,000, so on the third day we told them that's all we had," said Wilson. He was tough, and eventually the kidnappers agreed to a $25,000 ransom. Locals agreed to float a loan until all the cash arrived. Then the kidnappers agreed to meet Wilson with the cash.

"My faith weakened but I prayed," Yousif said. He worried about how the money would eventually be delivered, and who would put his life at risk to rescue him. At one point he told his guards, "You can kill me but don't ask such a huge amount from the church."

Then a man showed up on a motorcycle, and assuming the men to be vagrants, offered to help them. The guards shot him dead. Then the guards fled, only to return later. He began to believe his guards not only were not methodical, but were erratic and perhaps uncertain about their mission.

The guards disappeared again the next day, and Yousif decided to turn his thought to action. Kept in a makeshift shelter but not bound as long as the guards were around, he decided to move out of the shelter "five meters at a time." If the guards could see Yousif, "they would shoot me. If no one shot me, then I knew they were not around." Slowly Yousif and his driver managed to get far enough away from the shelter to see a shepherd coming up a dirt track in a tractor. "When we reached the tractor, we knew we were safe. We were free."

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