The second major kidnapping in our family occured a few months ago, on February 11th, 2006. This time, cousin in law 'M' was taken. Cousin M is married to cousin 'S,' a good friend of mine and my husband's first cousin. We see them all the time when she comes to visit her mother (my neighbor and our closest aunt). On Friday, February 10th, we visited S to congratulate her on the birth of her one week old baby boy. On February 11th, her husband was kidnapped. We were shocked.
M's kidnapping was a bit different than Uncle S's. Whereas Uncle S was kidnapped from the street by an organized criminal gang (possibly old Baathists), M and another store employee were 'arrested' from the store he manages by men in Iraqi police uniform.
M's store is owned by his well-to-do cousins, one of whom was kidnapped from the same location almost exactly a year earlier (though not by 'police'). In fact, M was with them at the time of this earlier kidnapping, and guns were pointed to his head, but he was let go when they found out that he was not an owner (ie. not rich). It came as a surprise when the store was targetted again, and that this time, M, the manager, was taken. I remember thinking that the store owners should have learned a lesson and kept their employees armed, but in reality, what are you supposed to do when a policeman arrests you or takes you in for 'questioning'? How do you know the real from the fake, the corrupt from the upright?
Cousin 'A,' M's brother in law did most of the negotiations with these kidnappers as he had with Uncle S. I remember seeing the great stress A was under, telling the kidnappers that there was no way possible for his family to pay $200,000 to ransom M. He got to speak with M a couple of times, as a proof of life, but he didn't tell his sister, S, that her strong, believing husband was crying each time, begging them to come up with the money in any way possible.
I remember seeing S, who had just given birth to her fourth child, who was going through her hormonal ups and downs, and postpartum blues, cry her heart out for the four days her husband was gone; four days in which she did not know if she would ever see him again. I watched her looking at her newborn son, wondering if he would grow up an orphan, if he would only know his father through the stories of others. I remember seeing her completely lose it on the third day, when she walked in on her brother talking to the kidnappers. They had given him M to speak to, and A was telling him, "Stay patient, Abu ___, you are a believer." S came back to the living room where we were sitting and crumpled to the floor. "I know they're beating him," she wailed. Her mom, forced to be the strong one for her daughter and grandchildren said, "Let them beat him, as long as he comes back to you alive and in one piece."
I remember seeing his two young daughters, ages 5 and 7, playing innocently with their 9 year old uncle, as if they trusted that their father would eventually come home. It was only in the dark of night, or when it fully dawned on them, that they would shed their tears. I remember seeing the nine year old uncle coming out of his room, rubbing his averted eyes. "He's really upset about M," his mother told me.
And I remember the happiness we all felt when news of M's release came out. The kidnappers had finally agreed to a ransom of $30,000. Thankfully for M, the store owners would pay this ransom; "anything under $50,000" they had told 'A', doing the negotiations.
I remember watching M walk through the door of his mother in law's house, soon after he was released. He was bruised, scratched, and dirty; his usually bright smile which he shared all the time had become timid, embarrassed. After four days of heart-wrenching, living on the edge of your seat negotiations, not knowing if your insistance on lowering the ransom would be the killer of your loved one, he was finally released. M came home safely, thank God, but in great pain afer having been tightly blindfolded the entire time, with his hands tied behind his back. Just imagine trying to sleep, eat, drink, sit, use the bathroom like that, for four long days and nights. But he did come home in one piece, and that is the most important thing.
Nineteen days later, his friend who had been kidnapped at the same time was found in the city morgue. His family had never even had the chance to dream of paying a ransom for him. He left behind three young children and a young wife who had no family to go back to. And he left behind a shocked friend who imagined what it would have been like had the outcomes been switched.
NOTE: There's a good article in the NYT, published on May 10th, 2006 that discusses part of this new kidnapping style amongst other things ("Alarmed by Raids, Neighbors Stand Guard in Iraq"). NYT has it in paid archives now, so I had to link with another page.