Abduction turns into multi-million-dollar business in Syria
"It made my hair stands on end once I remember the incident, which was the most gruesome and probably the bitterest experience I have ever gone through," said Sami, an owner of a high-end cafe in the old Damascus quarter.
After reluctance to speak out of fear of retribution, Sami became tearful and told Xinhua that "only now I can speak because I'm leaving the country this week to Cairo," where he would start his new business and get settled.
Sami, in his 30s and a father of two kids, said he was on his way back to his house in one of Damascus' upscale neighborhoods, when gunmen, in a brazen afternoon ambush, snatched him and bundled him into a car that sped up to an unknown location.
"All that happened in a split second," he said, adding: "It's like a nightmare or as if I was watching an action movie." He estimated that his captors drove him some 20 km away, but said he couldn't figure out the location because he was blindfolded.
"They locked me up in a place that felt like a slaughterhouse," he said, describing the place "horrifying and made me trembling." Sami said that three of his captors later entered the room and started interrogating him, mainly about his business and his father's fortune.
The number of kidnappings for ransom has dramatically flourished in the troubled country as kidnappers, who belong to either criminal gangs or insurgent groups, have turned abductions into a multi-million-dollar business in Syria.
Some abductors contended that they want money to buy weapons to fight the Syrian government.
Most of the wealthy Syrians, who are still in the country, don' t walk without bodyguards' around-the-clock protection, but Syrian professionals and small businessmen who cannot afford bodyguards, and whom kidnappers can count on to cough up large sums for ransom, have become the favored targets of kidnappers.
The average ransom paid to kidnappers, according to many incident circulated among Syrians, is between 500,000 and 15 million Syrian pounds. Kidnapping has become a regular occurrence in the country, with many incidents going unreported out of fear of reprisal.
Syrian authorities accuse the rebels that it refers to as " terrorist groups" of being behind the kidnappings to finance their terrorist activities or just to kill the government's supporters, although they also acknowledge that many of the abductions are simply criminal. Meanwhile, activists also accuse the government's security forces of capitalizing on the deteriorating situation and stage kidnapping to make money and tarnish the opposition.
Most kidnappings end either in payment of a ransom or the death of the hostage.
Sami said that his captors didn't beat him and treated him gently "because their utmost concern was money not me."
"Yet, I couldn't sleep because I was worried about my safety and also troubled that the abductors now know my family and how much I am worth... I also bore in mind similar incidents in the country in which the kidnapped had been dismembered and slaughtered by their captors," he said.
The man was released 48 hours after being abducted and his captors left the door of the room open to give him a chance to run away. "I learnt later that my father handed over a bag with 3 million pounds to two masked men driving a black car," he said.
Sami, whose eyes have flashed with anger and resentment, said he shut down his business in Syria and will travel to Egypt " because I can't stand another awful experience... Why should I live at risk?"
"Maybe I will return to Syrian one day when security and stability is restored and when the crisis is drawn to a close," he said.
Other sort of kidnapping is the political one, which ends up also with a ransom or in some cases the death of the kidnapped people.
Earlier in the week, Ukrainian freelance journalist Anhar Kochneva, who was kidnapped by the Syrian rebels last year, has managed to escape.
"I have made my own escape from the captors and some Syrians have helped me reach a safe place," Kochneva was cited by pro- government Sham FM radio as saying.
Kochneva, an outspoken critic of the rebels and known for her pro-Syrian government stances, was abducted by rebel forces near Syria's central Homs city in October 2012. After a while, the captors threatened to liquidate her if they were not paid as much as 50 million U.S. dollars, which was later reduced to 300,000 dollars.
Several pro-government reporters were reportedly to have been either killed or kidnapped during the country's two-year-old crisis.
The Lebanese Daily Star newspaper said Saturday that "new obstacles" had emerged and delayed the release of the nine Lebanese pilgrims snatched last year in northern Syria.
A total of 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims were kidnapped last May in Syria, two of whom were released in August and September of last year.
The armed rebels in Syria accuse Shiite pilgrims passing through the country, either Lebanese or Iranians, of aiding the Syrian government, whose leadership belongs to the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Also, Syrian rebels seized a convoy of UN peacekeepers a couple of week ago near the Golan Heights and demanded the withdrawal of the Syrian troops from the outskirts of the border town of Jamla in return for the UN soldiers' release.
However, international pressure pushed the rebels to release the UN staffers after three days of captivity.
With kidnapping becoming rampant, the Syrian government has tasked the newly-formed Ministry of National Reconciliation to handle the abduction file and possibly mediate the release of kidnapped people. Damascus (Xinhua)