A Hostage Affair in Gaza is Ended by a Three-Part Ransom
On the face of it, conversion to Islam would appear to provide a painless escape device for any hostage who happens to fall into fundamentalist terrorist hands. After all, once free, the hostage can always revert to his real faith or non-faith. It is hard to blame the two Fox News journalists, the American Steve Centanni, 60, and the New Zealander, Olaf Wiig, 36, for taking that path on to buy their way out of an uncertain fate at the hands of Palestinian terrorists – especially as they later reported they were forced to make the gesture at gunpoint.
And, indeed the two journalists were released from 13 days of captivity in Gaza three hours after announcing their conversion on a new videotape released by the kidnappers in Gaza.
Relief over the two journalists’ coming safely out of their ordeal is quite apart from considerations of the consequences for the war on terrorism. It must be said that the Palestinian kidnappers also walked away without suffering any harm and can keep on snatching victims without fear – exactly as the same terrorist gang got away with murdering three Americans in Gaza in 2003. In fact, the prime minister Ismail Haniya, who belongs to an Islamist terror group, was allowed to take credit for the release after winning a face saver in the form of the conversions and an anti-American diatribe.
Some further points are worth considering:
1. Shortly after Centanni and Wiig were snatched by masked gunmen in Gaza on Aug. 14, the various intelligence agencies operating in Gaza knew who the kidnapper was: the Palestinian warlord Zakaria Dughmush, who had been hired by the same Hamas group which on June 25 kidnapped and – is still holding – the Israeli soldier Gilead Shalit.
Dughmush is a former follower of the late Jemal Semhadana, head of the Palestinian Popular Resistance Committees who was killed in Rafah by rockets fired from an Israeli warplane on June 8, 2006. Semhadana was the first Palestinian terrorist to attack Americans. He staged the bombing attack of October 15, 2003 on a US embassy convoy from Tel Aviv as it drove past Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip. Three American security officers died in that attack.
After Semhadana’s death, his PRC fragmented into several small militias, one of them led by Dughmush, a fundamentalist freelance terrorist, who set up base in Gaza City. He was adopted by Hamas, but also draws funds and weapons from al Qaeda and Hizballah elements working together in the Gaza Strip.
The efforts of the Hamas abductors of Shalit to negotiate a prisoner swap broke down. Hamas ended up refusing the quid pro quo of a promise by Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, already deposited with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, to release 600 Palestinian prisoners. The abductors held out for a simultaneous trade and then withdrew from the talks.
Then, when pressure built up to end the episode which was embarrassing Haniya, Mahmoud Abbas and others, they contracted Dughmush to stage a more spectacular abduction operation. He chose the two American Fox New journalists as his prey.
2. Although the foreign intelligence agencies with a presence in Gaza knew where the Fox reporters were being held, neither the Americans, the Israelis nor the British – the senior US ally in the war on terror – were willing to go in and recover them by force, or even lay hands on Dughmush and his gunmen.
In the final reckoning, the Palestinians were granted a face-saver – the Hamas prime minister in particular, who is using the release of the American and the New Zealander to whitewash his organization, without freeing the Israeli soldier.
3. Various Palestinian middlemen were used by British agents at the request of the US to bring the Fox journalists home. They worked out a convoluted deal which entailed their public conversion to Islam, an anti-American harangue on air and a six-figure cash ransom paid under the table to Dughmush to fund his terrorist militia’s operations in Gaza. While the first two parts of the ransom were publicly aired, the third part will no doubt be vehemently denied. But the face remains that a terrorist chief who freelances for at least three fundamentalist terrorist organizations walks free with a strong incentive to develop his profitable hostage-taking business.
4. For Israel, the fate of Gilead Shalit, whom Hamas kidnapped from sovereign Israel in a cross-border assault, is left up in the air. Israel did not link him to the two Fox journalists; Hamas did. The Americans, the New Zealanders and the British worked fast to separate the two abduction episodes. Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, who says he does not sleep at night for worrying about Shalit and the two Israelis in Hizballah hands, did not take advantage of the subsequent abductions of Centanni and Wiig to have him included in the package for their release. He must have known that the two journalists would not have been released without the say-so of the Hamas group holding the Israeli soldier. This was a card Olmert did not play.
All that remains to be found out now about this shabby episode is the size of the rake-off the Palestinian warlord Dughmush has handed over from his ransom to Shalit’s Hamas abductors.