Ransom claims abound in Carroll case
New evidence indicates that the UAE tried to negotiate for her release.
BAGHDAD — Since Jill Carroll's release, rumors have swirled about a $10 million or even a $36 million ransom payment. Iraqi politician Adnan al-Dulaimi's claim to have paid $1.5 million to free Ms. Carroll (See Aug. 22 story), is just the latest.
Such rumors are not without precedent. Most releases of foreign hostages in Iraq have involved ransoms into the millions of dollars. Carroll's captors told her in January that they were seeking $10 million, but they later said that their leadership had decided against accepting money for her release.
Neither the Monitor nor the Carroll family paid for her release.
"There is a cottage industry growing up around these kidnappings, with everyone claiming to have done this, and done that, and paid a ransom," says one US investigator familiar with Carroll's case. "No money was involved [for Carroll's release]. None was paid that we are aware of."
But the Monitor has new evidence to suggest that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) tried to negotiate a ransom payment. Some Iraqi investigators speculate that this was done on behalf of the US government.
When asked about a US ransom payment at a press conference on the day Carroll was released, US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad seemed to leave some wiggle room: "No US person entered into any arrangements with anyone. By US person, I mean the United States mission."
After two months in captivity, Carroll's chief captor ordered her to make two tearful videos – neither of which were made public – asking specifically for the help of UAE leader Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, as a "last chance" to save her life.
Abu Nour told Carroll that they had "talked to" Sheikh Khalifa, who had agreed to help. She was told of "negotiating for [the release of] more prisoners" with the UAE. But the first video disc was apparently put in the wrong type of disc drive and destroyed. So four days later, Carroll was forced to make another.
Those videos to the UAE proved worthless in the end, she says. As her captors brainstormed over the contents of the last propaganda video before her March 30 release, one of her captors piped up: "What about that dog, Khalifa?"
Abu Nour, her chief captor, agreed that they should have Carroll verbally attack the UAE leader on the video, emphasizing that he specifically failed to help her.
Carroll says that their anger at Sheikh Khalifa seemed genuine and she believes it stemmed from some kind of negotiation that went awry. "They told me to say that I had asked for the sheikh's help, and that he didn't help me – he refused."
UAE officials in Abu Dhabi and Washington, D.C., who were contacted by the Monitor did not return requests for comment on any videos sent to the UAE leader by Carroll's kidnappers, or whether the UAE had negotiated for her release.
A senior Iraqi official, who asked not to be identified because of concerns about damaging Iraq's relationship with the UAE, says there was a ransom negotiation with the UAE for Carroll, but that it fell apart in the week prior to her release. This official also says no ransom was paid for Carroll, and declined to discuss the matter further.
A story on the Arabic-language Kitabat.com website June 6 provided a great deal of detail about the UAE's possible involvement. But numerous confirmable details in the story were false. For example, the story claimed that the Monitor received an e-mail within a week of Carroll's abduction from her captors. The alleged e-mail said that "even if [Carroll] were proven innocent ... [of] being a collaborator with the American occupation," her freedom would cost $15 million.
The Monitor never received an e-mail or any other form of communication from Carroll's captors, says Richard Bergenheim, the Monitor's editor.
The high-brow Iraqi Web magazine, citing "trusted sources" in Iraq's Interior Ministry that were "confirmed by a high-ranking friend" in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, claimed that the kidnappers e-mailed the Monitor the contacts of UAE diplomat Naji al-Nuaimi, who was to act as an intermediary and courier in the alleged ransom plan. This, too, never happened, says Mr. Bergenheim.
Mr. Nuaimi ran the UAE Embassy's aid program in Iraq, which finances one of Baghdad's most modern hospitals. That would have given him a good cover for moving large sums. But the story claims the money was never handed over. The kidnappers, angry at Nuaimi, kidnapped him in retaliation on May 16 in Baghdad.
While much of the Kitabat story's claims are demonstrably false, the UAE lent credence to the notion that its diplomats have been involved in negotiations to free hostages. The day after Nuaimi's capture, a UAE official said the government hoped he "would be released unharmed because of the country's success in negotiating the release of foreigners taken hostage in Iraq."
Nuaimi was released May 30 and returned home to a hero's welcome.
Some analysts say that Iraqi politicians are claiming to have had a hand in Carroll's release to try to curry favor with the US or otherwise bolster their positions.
US government policy is to never pay ransom for hostages, though it can't stop individuals or private institutions from doing so. Besides making Americans greater targets in the future, such a payment also presents an ethical dilemma: Even if a hostage in Iraq is released, that cash would almost certainly be used to kill more American troops and other Iraqi civilians, or to snag more hostages.
"I really do believe that [Carroll] was released because of military pressure, and [arresting] people close to them," says one US investigator, noting the release of the three Christian Peacemakers Team hostages the week before. "They were getting desperate and didn't want to hold her anymore.... I never saw any evidence that money was involved."
At one point, Iraqi police sources told the Monitor that the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP) had paid $10 million or $11 million for Jill Carroll's release. On March 30, she was dropped off outside an IIP office in Baghdad's Amiriyah neighborhood. The same police sources now say that they were mistaken, and no longer believe the IIP was involved.
Ms. Carroll's father, Jim, says that in early February – shortly after a third video aired on Al Rai TV in Kuwait – he spoke by phone with a man in Iraq who identified himself as Ahmed al-Sammarai. He spoke English, and told Jim that he had lived in Chicago. He told Mr. Carroll that he had contact with his daughter's kidnappers and that "the deal is done." Jim Carroll was elated, but surprised because it was the first indication that any negotiations were under way. But after two conversations, Jim could no longer reach Mr. Sammarai.
Carroll says that her captors became upset when the third video aired in Kuwait. The tape had been sent as a private proof of life to her family, but was somehow intercepted and broadcast.
IIP spokesman Iyad al-Sammarai, whom police officials had originally identified as a possible intermediary with the kidnappers, says neither he nor his party were ever involved in negotiations for Carroll's release. Sammarai speaks English, and used to live in Chicago. But he told the Monitor that he never spoke to Jim Carroll, and never had any contact with her kidnappers.
"There's a big difference between negotiations, which we didn't engage in, and sending messages,'' he says. "We thought that some people we knew might know the people who kidnapped her, and we sent messages urging her release. Whether those messages reached her kidnappers, we don't know."
Leads pursued during Carroll's captivity, by the Monitor and the Carroll family, in Jordan, Kuwait, and Baghdad, turned up one ransom demand of $30 million, and another for $15 million that quickly shifted to $100,000, and then $10,000 – just as a "fee" to receive proof that Carroll was alive. Other smaller claims came and went, most were determined to have been put forth by scammers.
For example, German police working with the FBI arrested a West African living in Muenster, after he sent an e-mail to David Cook, the Monitor's Washington bureau chief, allegedly promising to release Carroll in exchange for $2 million.
Sheikh Sattam Hamid Farhan al-Gaood insists he is responsible for Carroll's freedom. Mr. Gaood, a former business associate of Saddam Hussein, ran the "largest network of Iraqi front companies," according to the CIA's 2004 report on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, to outwit the UN oil-for-food sanctions.
Gaood was detained by US soldiers 10 days after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003, and labeled a "high value detainee," according to an Amnesty International appeal. He was released in December 2005 and fled to Jordan.
Gaood has since called attacks on US forces in Iraq "honest resistance." In February, he said that he could get Carroll released with a single phone call. He wanted the Carroll family to publicly ask for his help, which they subsequently did. Jill's father also established a telephone relationship with Gaood.
Iraqi police say US officials were misled about Gaood's influence with insurgents today. Still, in an ABC-TV interview after Carroll's release, in mid-April, Gaood said that "at the kidnappers' request," he had arranged "good donations" of up to $1 million to unspecified widows and orphans.
But his story also has some inconsistencies.
Gaood told his ABC interviewers off camera that he had alerted Carroll's family 10 hours before her release that she would be let go. The family says no one gave them prior notification of Jill's impending release.
Gaood also told the Carrolls that he played a role in the February release of a Jordanian Embassy driver kidnapped in Iraq – a falsehood, according to Jordanian sources.
Sunni politician Adnan al-Dulaimi, who says he paid $1.5 million to have Carroll released, met with Gaood in early March in Amman, Jordan. But Mr. Dulaimi says, "We never talked about this [Carroll] case." As for Gaood's public claims about ransom? "Everything he says is lies. I am ready to go to Amman and tell [Gaood] he is a liar," Dulaimi says.