Swede kidnapped in Iraq appeals for his life

A video of the Swede who was kidnapped in Iraq three weeks ago was released by his captors on Thursday. With a machine gun to his head, Minas Ibrahim al-Yousifi appealed to the international community to help free him.

“I beg everyone to do their utmost to free me,” he said on the film, which lasted for just over two minutes.

Mr al-Yousifi and his family fled Iraq in 1984 and settled in Jönköping. After the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime he returned to Iraq to establish and lead a new Christian Democratic party.

The party was not taking part in the election on January 30th, but on January 28th he was travelling from Mosul to Baghdad when he was taken by the Martyr al-Isawy Brigades, a hitherto unknown rebel group.

“I appeal to His Majesty Carl XVI Gustav, Sweden’s king, and Queen Silvia, Pope John Paul, the international federation of Christian parties, the Muslim clerics in Iraq and Iraq’s constitutional assembly to work for my freedom,” he said.

On Saturday Mr al-Yousifi made a telephone call to his family in which he explained the kidnappers’ demands. According to Expressen, they have requested around 28 million crowns and for US troops to be replaced by UN troops in the Iraq. Mr al-Yousifi said the kidnappers were threatening to behead him if the family contacted any security organisations.

Friday’s Dagens Nyheter noted that certain aspects of this kidnapping differ from others in Iraq over the last few months.

The fact that the hostage was allowed to call home is unusual, as is the fact that the financial demands were made before the political demands. Magnus Norell, a terrorism expert at Sweden’s Defence Research Institute, told the paper that this indicated that the motivation for the kidnap was more likely to be criminal.

“I want to emphasise that we don’t know, but if the main point was political they would hardly say [they wanted money], even if they wouldn’t say no to a few million dollars,” he said.

On Thursday Mr al-Yousifi’s children met the leader of Sweden’s Christian Democratic party, Göran Hägglund, in an attempt to raise the profile of their father’s case in the Swedish media.

“If Minas had been called Kalle Svensson then this would have been front page news a long time ago,” said Hägglund.

“I have no reason at the moment to criticise the authorities but it is very important that they do their utmost,” he added.

However, Mr al-Yousifi’s son said that he hoped the release of the video would bring about more action from the Swedish authorities.

“I hope that this will put pressure on the foreign office,” said Avin al-Yousifi. “Now they have to take it seriously – earlier they haven’t worked as they should have.”

Avin al-Yousifi described his father as “an incredibly committed man who is burning for a democratic Iraq”.

“That’s why he went back after Saddam’s fall, despite the fact that we all warned him about how dangerous it is,” he told Stockholm City.

“Now all that remains is to hope and wait,” said Avin al-Yousifi. “Our mother is already with relative in northern Iraq to be able to welcome dad when he is freed.”

The video brought a mixed response from the Swedish media. Both DN and Aftonbladet declined to show it on their web sites and chose instead to show still pictures.

“This film is a propaganda tool and we do not want to be of service to the kidnappers,” said Pia Skagermark, the managing editor at DN.

Expressen took a different approach, offering various methods of viewing the video through their web site.

According to Aftonbladet, Mr al-Yousifi’s children watched the film on Thursday evening.

“It feels even worse when you see it with your own eyes,” said the hostage’s daughter, Nalin.

“It’s shocking. Nobody wants to see their father in such a situation.”

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, Expressen, Aftonbladet, Stockholm City