Al-Jazeera broadcast footage on May 16 of two Russians abducted in Iraq earlier this month. Along with the footage, the Qatar-based satellite television channel read a statement by a group calling itself the Army of Al-Ta’ifah al-Mansurah (the victorious sect), which claimed to be holding the hostages. The group demanded withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraq (AP, May 16).
The two Russians being held are employees of Interenergoservis, a Russian company under contract to repair four Iraqi power plants. The captives were abducted on May 10, after gunmen attacked a car returning them from work to their residences in Baghdad. An Interenergoservis employee was killed and an Iraqi guard wounded in the attack (see EDM, May 14).
The head of Al-Jazeera’s Moscow bureau, Abram Khazam, said the one-minute video shows the two hostages drinking tea in an unknown location. The captives appear to be unharmed. As for the group claiming responsibility for the kidnapping, Khazam stated: “They said that they want all foreigners to leave Iraq. But I think that this incident most likely involves a criminal aspect. They simply want to get money from the firm which employs the abducted Russians” (Interfax, May 16).
Interenergoservis’ director for international projects, Yevgeny Loginov, announced that 120 of the company’s 340 employees working on Iraq would fly back to Moscow today (May 17). Their departure was planned prior to the airing of the footage of the kidnapped employees (see EDM, May 14). Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said today that the Russian government was working with the U.S.-led coalition authorities, the Iraqi Governing Council and Iraqi political and religious organizations to find those holding the Russian hostages as well as those who organized their abduction (NEWSru.com, May 17). After Al-Jazeera aired the footage of the hostages on May 16, Foreign Ministry spokesman Yuri Fedotov said the Russian embassy in Baghdad was doing everything possible to secure their release as soon as possible. He also called for minimal “excitement” about the hostages, given the need not to harm “a very delicate process of negotiations” to secure their release (RIA Novosti, May 17).
Meanwhile, influential Shiite leader Sheikh Jawad Al-Khalsi, imam of Al-Kazem mosque, demanded the Russians’ immediate release. Their kidnapping “caused damage to all Iraqis who want to preserve friendly relations with Russia,” Al-Khalsi said in a statement published in Iraqi newspaper Az-Zaman. Russia, the statement added, “occupies a positive position [in relation to] the Iraq issue and is in no way connected to the activities of the coalition forces in Iraq” (RIA Novosti, May 16).
The videotape of the Russian hostages in Iraq was broadcast on the same day that U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was winding up a three-day visit to Moscow for talks mainly devoted to the Iraq issue. Last week, the State Duma passed a resolution placing much of the blame for the kidnapping of the Russians on the U.S.-led coalition (see EDM, May 14). Likewise, Federation Council International Relations Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov said that actions taken under the coalition’s “occupation” of Iraq, including abuses, such as those that occurred at Abu Ghraib prison, have created a situation in which no one of “European appearance” can feel safe in Iraq and thus may have played a key role in provoking the kidnapping of foreigners in Iraq, including the Russians (Itar-Tass, May 14).