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Haider's revenge

So the follow up story is even more dramatic.

To recap: Last month I wrote a blog about a cousin of a close Iraqi friend who had been kidnapped. I wrote the entry after I listened to the chilling first conversation between the kidnappers (who claimed to be from al-Qaida) and the family of the college student named Haider they were holding.

The conversation had been recorded on a cell phone, and I listened as the kidnappers demanded $150,000 and threatened to kill Haider, cutting him to pieces.

Haider's family, like most in Iraq, couldn't afford to pay, and his brother said he was resigned to accepting Haider's death. But it didn't stop there.

The family waited two painful days, wondering about Haider. They were 90 percent convinced Haider was either already dead or would never be released.

They were determined not to destroy the lives of the other members of the family by draining every dinar they had, selling the family house and borrowing from friends and going into debt.

But the family couldn't just ignore him. After two days, they cracked. Haider's brother called the kidnappers (they had been using Haider's cell phone).

Negotiations resume
"Hello," he said.

"Hello," said the kidnapper he had spoken to before.

"So, about Haider?"

"Do you have our money, the $150,000?"

"We are just a poor, simple family. Haider is only a student."

"We understand that, and can give you a discount. We will accept only $100,000."

"That is still impossible."

"That is the final price or we will slaughter Haider."

"Okay, okay, let's talk tomorrow."


So the negotiations were back on.

The talks went back and forth and after two more conversations over the next two days, the family managed to shave another $10,000 off the ransom, bringing it down to $90,000. That's when the family received an unexpected phone call from one of Haider's friends from university; it cast a whole new light on the situation.

Another unwelcome call
"We have found Haider's body," said Haider's friend. "I am sorry, God protect him. He was at the morgue and had been slaughtered (his throat cut). His body was dumped in the river."

The family was distraught, grieving and furious. They understood the game immediately. The kidnappers, the family suspected, had most likely already killed Haider and were now trying to extort a ransom. (This is common in Iraq. It is much less risky to kill a hostage than to keep him alive and hidden in a secure place.) Alternatively, the family thought, the kidnappers didn't kill him, but had learned that Haider was dead and were trying to profit from the situation.

That day, the family went to the Baqouba morgue and received Haider's body. They buried him the next day. How Haider was killed and why, however, remained unclear; but not for long.

The kidnappers called back.

"So we have accepted $90,000," one of the kidnappers said. "We will not go any lower. We will do the exchange for Haider in Baqouba tomorrow."

Haider's brother, who handled all the phone calls, was sly; he wanted clarification, but not to tip his hand.

"So, $90,000 and we will exchange it for Haider?"


"And Haider is OK? In good health?"

"Yes, but we will kill him, slaughter him."

"Ok, we accept. We will sell everything we own, just don't harm Haider. How do we meet?"

"We will call you tomorrow to tell you how we will do the exchange," the kidnapper said and hung up.

Haider's brother worked the phones. He called his relatives. He called his "tribe," telling the senior members of his extended family clan what had happened and that he needed their support. Within 24 hours, his relatives and tribe had dispatched more than a dozen armed men to the family's home. Haider's brother had organized a revenge brigade.

The kidnappers called back on schedule and set an appointment to do the swap in front of a main mosque in Baqouba.

"Bring the money and you will be met by one of our representatives," a kidnapper said.

The counter-attack team left for Baqouba in several cars. They had a plan for their trap, parking in the streets surrounding the mosque, trying to stay hidden. But the kidnappers were playing games too.

When Haider's brother arrived (he would do the exchange himself), the kidnappers (apparently watching) called to say they had changed to location to a nearby side street. But the kidnappers weren't ready for what happened next.

Haider's brother stepped out of a car carrying a suitcase filled with papers and rags. One of the kidnappers approached him, and took the suitcase. As soon as he turned to walk away, six of Haider's relatives and tribesmen from nearby cars rushed in, grabbed the man, threw him in a car, and sped away.

They took the captured kidnapper to a relative's homes nearby, and tortured him. The kidnapper, described as a Sunni Salafist militant (an al-Zarqawi type), confessed to having killed Haider.

Under more brutal torture (they beat, whipped and slashed him with knives), the kidnapper identified three other militants involved in Haider's kidnapping and ransom attempt. By the end of the day, Haider's brother and his gang had custody of all four of the kidnappers.

They shot them all dead, and dumped their bodies in the street, just as they had threatened to do to Haider. At no stage, did the family ever consider contacting Iraqi police or government authorities. In the end, they said they were happy to have gotten their justice.

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