Seven employees of a Kuwaiti trucking company arrived in Kuwait Wednesday after a 43-day ordeal at the hands of Iraqi militant kidnappers. The company said the seven were released after their abductors were paid more than $500,000.
The three Kenyans, three Indians and an Egyptian landed at Kuwait International Airport, where they were met by diplomats and officials from the Kuwait and Gulf Link Transport Co. They had been held for 43 days.
“We paid half a million dollars in order to release the hostages and in the past we had paid other sums,” KGL chairman Saeed Dashti told reporters. He told Reuters his company would “continue efforts in Iraq because we have a commitment with the U.S.-led coalition.”
A group calling itself the Black Banners Division of the Islamic Secret Army had kidnapped the men in July and demanded that KGL end its work in Iraq.
“We paid half a million dollars in order to release the hostages and in the past we had paid other sums,” KGL chairman Saeed Dashti told reporters, referring to protracted talks with the kidnappers.
He said his company would “continue efforts in Iraq because we have a commitment with the U.S.-led coalition.”
Hostage-taking has become a broad problem in Iraq, some foreigners held on political demands and some seized to obtain money from Western companies.
Tired but happy
The seven drivers appeared tired but in high spirits on their arrival in Kuwait.
“When I look back at the events of the past 43 days, all I can tell you is I am tired, I’m really tired,” Kenyan hostage Ibrahim Khamis told Reuters, his eyes bloodshot, lips cracked.
A company official said KGL would continue to send supplies to Iraq, with Iraqi partners handling transport from the Iraq-Kuwait border northwards.
Talks between KGL and the group earlier to free the men had been mediated by Iraqi tribal leader Sheikh Hisham al-Dulaymi.
“We were jumping up and down in the corridors when we heard they were out,” KGL spokeswoman Rana Abu Zaineh said after Dubai-based Al Arabiya television broke the news of the drivers’ release. “This is the end of a terrible nightmare.”
Other conditions dropped
The captors had apparently dropped other conditions they had made earlier, including that KGL pay compensation to families who had suffered in airstrikes on the city of Fallujah.
“We didn’t sleep from happiness. Thank God, everyone helped us,” the Egyptian hostage, Mohamed Ali Sanad, told Al Arabiya television shortly after his release.
KGL’s Dashti said the seven drivers would be given a “very prolonged holiday” to see their families.
In a videotape given to foreign news organizations in Baghdad, the seven men were shown wearing white robes.
One kidnapper, his face covered by a red checked kaffiyeh, shook hands with each captive and then handed them a copy of the Koran before they were released.
In an earlier videotape, the captors had threatened to “slaughter” one of the seven if their demands were not met.