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November 26, 2004
Was Ransom Paid For Afghan Hostages?

Reuters reports this morning that new questions have arisen regarding the release of three hostages from the grip of Islamist kidnappers in Afghanistan. According to an unnamed Afghani government source, a ransom was paid to the terrorists in exchange for their hostages, a move that the US warned against earlier and that all other governments deny making:

A government official, meanwhile, said he understood the hostages were freed on Tuesday after the payment of a ransom, but he did not know by whom it was paid or to whom.

"As far as I understand money has been given," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The United States had warned again paying a ransom for the release of the hostages -- Annetta Flanigan of Northern Ireland, Shqipe Hebibi from Kosovo and Philippine diplomat Angelito Nayan -- saying that compromises would only provoke more kidnappings.

A former British journalist now running a guesthouse in Kabul told Reuters that he had been approached as a conduit for a ransom offering of $1.5 million. Afghan officials later arrested him for alleged complicity in the kidnappings but was quickly released:

A former British soldier and journalist detained over his role in the release of three U.N. hostages was himself freed on Friday and said he had passed on a message offering $1.5 million to a group for the trio's freedom.

Veteran war cameraman Peter Jouvenal, who now runs a guesthouse in Kabul, said he passed on the offer of money from Kosovan businessman Behgjet Pacolli to the Taliban splinter faction Jaish-e Muslimeen (Army of Muslims) via an intermediary.

Jouvenal says that he doesn't think any ransom was paid, although both he and the family of one of the hostages confirm he went through his contacts to negotiate their release. That information makes his denial of payment appear a lot less credibile than otherwise. If he offered a ransom at some point -- which surely seems to be the only purpose of back-channel negotiations -- why would the Islamists release the three without payment?

The desire of families to do whatever they can to free their loved ones is understandable. Nevertheless, paying ransoms to these lunatics just keeps them in business, giving them funds to buy whatever materials they need for their next attacks on Westerners and on Afghanis eager to join in the new democratic processes that their liberation has allowed. It also creates a lucrative market for hostages, putting every Westerner in Afghanistan at markedly increased risk for capture. And when those ransoms are not paid, we will find their bodies littering the streets of Kabul just as they are in Baghdad and Fallujah.

It will be hard enough to stop the terrorists. Giving them millions of dollars at a toss will make it even more difficult in the future. For the safety of Afghanis and Westerners around the world, we must make sure that ransom is never paid for hostages.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 26, 2004 8:58 AM

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