The forgotten four: kidnapped in 2006 but families still wait
Posted by defensebaseactcomp on May 17, 2010
No one knows whether they are dead or alive. The families of four South African men kidnapped in Baghdad in 2006 are desperate for news of their loved ones — but fear that their plight has been forgotten, at home and in Iraq.
Unlike the case of the recently freed British hostage Peter Moore and his four guards — three died and one is missing — no one has claimed responsibility for the South African hostage taking.
No video has emerged and no ransom or political demands have been made. Instead, the families of Andre Durant, Johann Enslin, Callie Scheepers and Hardus Greef, all security guards, have endured 3½ years of unanswered questions and silence.
Lourika Durant, whose husband, the father of her three children, is among the captives, refuses to give up. “I really hope that people read about this and maybe there will be somebody who can help give us a contact or let us know that they are alive,” said Mrs Durant, 38, who works as a nurse in Pretoria.
Pierre Durant, her brother-in-law, believes that he is the only person still actively looking for the men, who were seized at a rogue police checkpoint in the north east of the Iraqi capital on December 10, 2006. He has travelled to Iraq eight times to hunt for clues and to attempt to put pressure on the authorities to investigate the case. At one point in the past year he managed to speak to his brother on a mobile phone, raising hopes of a resolution, but the trail has since run cold.
Mr Durant, 42, and other close relatives of the four hostages contacted by The Times, appealed to the kidnappers to show mercy. “We as a family are not looking for justice or retribution,” Mr Durant said. “If these guys are alive then we want to negotiate for their release. If they’ve been killed then I just want their bodies back so we can try to get on with our lives.”
Thousands of people, mainly Iraqis, were kidnapped and held for ransom or political gain in the lawlessness that consumed the country after the 2003 invasion. Among them were more than 200 foreign hostages. Some, such as Mr Moore, were freed and others killed, while the rest are listed as missing.
The four South Africans, who worked for Safenet Security Services, a South African private security company, were in a convoy close to Sadr City, a notorious Shia slum, when they were taken by gunmen in police uniforms.
Five Iraqi men travelling with them were also seized, but released a few days later.
Mr Durant, who has collected more than 500 pages of evidence in the search for his brother, believes that the League of the Righteous — the same Iranian-backed Shia terrorist group that kidnapped Mr Moore and his guards in May 2007 — is behind the abduction. He also suspects that the four are being held in a secret Iraqi jail, a theory reached after the covert conversation with his brother.
“He kept on saying that ‘they are keeping us in atrocious conditions’,” Mr Durant said, recalling the phone call, which was made from a restaurant in south Baghdad. “He described to me how they are being treated in the jail — he used the word jail. He said that they are given food every three days and tortured.”
The hostage, 39, told his brother that he was with two of his colleagues but did not know the whereabouts of the fourth man.
Mr Durant, a former prosecutor who paid $5,000 (£3,300) to a middleman to make the call, said that he had no doubt the person he spoke to was his brother.
“I spoke to my brother in Afrikaans. I asked him three questions that only he could answer. He was very downhearted. His mental condition was not good. But he got upbeat again because I had spoken to him. I said we are looking for him.”
The South African Government — which has no embassy in Iraq — along with the Iraqi Government and the American Embassy in Baghdad, insist that they are trying to find the four men — but, so far, without any tangible result.
The families feel abandoned. The last time that the wives of the hostages had an official meeting with their Government was two years ago. Chris Enslin, the brother of Johann, 48, said: “There is no help from anyone. It is frustrating because there are no answers after all this time. I am sitting here looking at my parents growing old and that is killing me — the fact that I am basically helpless.”
Safenet, which no longer operates under that name in Iraq, said that it was in regular contact with a hostage negotiator who continues to investigate the matter. The company’s efforts, however, have been criticised by the families. “They’re not giving us any support. The only person looking for these four men is me,” Mr Durant said.
His work appears to be the one element keeping hope alive for the nine children, four wives, ageing parents and other anxious relatives of the hostages. Mona Scheepers, 73, the mother of Mr Scheepers, 49, said she believed that her son was still alive. In a message to the kidnappers she said: “Soften your hearts and please send them back to us, in the name of God.” Original here