Kidnapped reporters: the 'curse' of Baghdad hotel

23rd August 2004, Comments 0 comments

BAGHDAD, Aug 22 (AFP) - Two French reporters feared to have been taken hostage two days ago, as well as a US newsman and a British freelance who suffered the same fate last week, all stayed in the same eerie Baghdad hotel.

BAGHDAD, Aug 22 (AFP) - Two French reporters feared to have been taken hostage two days ago, as well as a US newsman and a British freelance who suffered the same fate last week, all stayed in the same eerie Baghdad hotel.

Georges Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot, reporters for Radio France Internationale (RFI) and daily Le Figaro have been not been heard from since Friday.

The two journalists checked into the Al-Dulaimi hotel in central Baghdad on August 9. For the two seasoned Iraq specialists, who co-wrote a book on the country under Saddam Hussein, it was their habitual Baghdad quarters.

The owner of the hotel said Sunday he last saw them on Friday morning.

"They wanted to go to Najaf and we told them to stay in Baghdad because it was too dangerous with the Mehdi Army," said the 42-year-old Hamza al-Dulaimi, who comes from a prominent Sunni tribe in the restive western Al-Anbar province.

Although no group has yet claimed responsibility for their capture, it is feared they were taken hostage on the road heading south to the holy Shiite city of Najaf, where a stand-off between radical cleric Moqtada Sadr's militia and Iraqi forces backed by US troops is continuing.

Their exact whereabouts when last seen are still shrouded in mystery and confusion, amid conflicting reports from witnesses at the hotel and the son of their Syrian Christian driver.

A receptionist claims he saw the two Frenchmen on Friday evening but the 17-year-old son of the driver - whose brother-in-law lives in Paris and is a close friend of Malbrunot - insists they headed to Najaf on Friday.

James Brandon, a British freelance reporter writing for the Sunday Telegraph and the Christian Science Monitor, was kidnapped on August 12 in the southern port city of Basra and released a day later.

He stayed at the Al-Dulaimi hotel before travelling south.

So did Micah Garen, a US journalist for Four Corners Media, who was taken in the southern town of Nasiriyah on August 13 and released on Sunday.

Jordanian businessman Jamal Sadeq al-Salaymeh, who was abducted in Baghdad on August 9 and released four days later, was staying at the Al-Mosafir hotel across the street from the Dulaimi.

The owner of this low-budget hotel in Baghdad's Jadriya neighbourhood is adamant that no member of his staff could be linked to the string of kidnappings which have hit his guests.

"Micah went to Nasiriyah 20 times from my hotel and it was always fine ... Georges and Christian were the first foreigners to stay here after Saddam was toppled, I consider them friends," he explained.

"I am not afraid of any connection because the kidnappings did not take place in my hotel," Dulaimi added.

He claims the serial hostage-taking is the work of cells from Sadr's Mehdi Army. Efforts for the release of Brandon and Garen have been conducted by the cleric's office in Baghdad.

The Dulaimi's staff is almost entirely Shiite but the manager insists his employees are above suspicion. But other reporters staying at the hotel have sometimes complained it was frequented by shadowy characters.

And although there is no evidence proving the link to be anything more than a disturbing coincidence, most of the remaining foreign guests are taking no chances.

"That's it. There's no way I'm staying here," said French photographer Jerome Sassini as he was packing his belongings in room 18.

The French consulate even sent a delegation to the hotel and advised all French guests to move out as a precautionary measure.

© AFP

 

Subject: French news

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