Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Free!!! Alhamdulillah!!!

We are relieved and overjoyed that all four of our friends have been released today!

They were handed over to the Red Cross in Baghdad and arrived back in Italy at 11pm. Simona Pari's dad Luciano, said "I wish to take this opportunity to thank you and to thank the entire Arab world, who proved their friendship to us."

Ransom rumours

Al-Rai al-Aam, one of Kuwait's leading daily newspapers, said the captors of the two Simonas have agreed to to free them, as early as this week, for a $1 million ransom. The newspaper quoted sources "very close to Islamic factions" saying they expected a "happy ending." The report, which said half of the ransom had been paid yestarday and the rest would be paid today, could not be independently confirmed and both the Italian prime minister's office and the foreign ministry said they had no immediate comment on the report.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

The Sheikh's daisies

In Italy people have begun making and drawing sets of four daisies, as a focal symbol as they wait, hope and pray for the release of our four friends, and an end to the brutal occupation of Iraq. The symbol comes from a story recounted by Simona Torretta in a letter to a friend a few days before the kidnapping.

"We had an appointment with the Sheikh [al-Kubaisi of the Muslim Clerics Association] early in the morning to discuss the schools project. He told of his followers, killed while they were marching peacefully [to Najaf], Fathers and good family men. I told him about Enzo. We mourned on the common deaths, an Italian-Iraqi mourning. He told us to be strong. In these days there's little room for hope: grief is everywhere. Then in the evening he came back, with a surprise for us: two daisies. He wanted to let us smile. "After seeing you two so depressed, this morning, I couldn't rest all day long." This said by someone who's been watching friends die all year. "I chose this flower because is the only one that can grow in salty soil. It's like us: it lives and dies in difficult conditions. So stop being sad, you're one of the most precious things left to us. And most of all I'd like to rest." He made us smile. I got the red, solitary daisy, with the long stem. Simo [Pari] got the pink and meaty one."

There are some beautiful banners and posters using the daisy theme on Un Ponte Per's website.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

al-Dhari thinks they are being held by criminals

Muthana al-Dhari, a spokesman for the influential Association of Muslim Scholars, said that he guesses our friends are being held by a criminal group that has no relation to the resistance. Speaking to journalists at the committee’s headquarters in Baghdad’s Umm al-Qura mosque, he said he did not think they are dead “because the material gain from holding them is big. I had my doubts about the whole operation from the start because the style and method all indicate that the kidnappers are an organised gang with no connection to the resistance.”

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Unverified claims of killings

Anyone can post a message onto a Jihadist bulletin board and make any claim under any name, real or assumed. For this reason it is very hard to weigh the validity of statements proportedly by the kidnappers of our friends.

In the early hours of this morning, a statement in the name the Jihad Organization, the second group which said it was holding them (on 12th September), claimed to have killed the two Simonas. A few hours later a second statement appeared in the name of the Supporters of Al-Zawahiri, the first group which said it was holding them (on 10th September), which also claimed to have killed them. Neither statement can be verified, and the existance of two seperate claims adds to the confusion. Intersos, for whom Mahnoaz worked, has said: "Our sources in Baghdad do not consider... this announcement reliable."

We should not give up hope yet, and continue praying for their safety and release, along with Ra'ad and Mahnoaz.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Zarqawi apparently denies involvement

A group headed by Abu Musab al Zarqawi appeared to deny that it had bought the two Simonas, as had been claimed by Foreign Minister Hamid al-Bayati. Reuters reports that the statement was posted on a website yestarday: "The Tawhid and Jihad group affirms to all that the report that we bought the Italians is a lie. We urge the brothers and sisters not to be hasty in picking up news." The Tawhid and Jihad group does however hold a Brition Kenneth Bigley and an American, Jack Hensley, and killed another American, Eugene Armstrong, yestarday.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Video appeal on arabic stations

Un Ponte Per has produced a four minute video showing our four friends at work in Iraq and appealling for their release so they can continue serving the Iraqi people. It has been sent to Al-Jazeria and Al-Arabiya channels. A .mov file can be downloaded in arabic or in italian.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Speculation about kidnappers

Deputy Iraqi Foreign Minister Hamid al-Bayati, said during a visit to Italy: "From the information at our disposal, they were kidnapped by criminal organisations that could have sold them to members of al-Zarqawi's group," (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is a Jordanian member of al Qaeda). Bayati also said he had received information that they have been transferred to Falluja.

Meanwhile Naomi Klein and Jeremy Scahill speculated that foreign intelligence services might be involved, aiming to discredit the Iraqi resistance and scare away foreign peace activists. They base their argument on comments by Sheikh al-Kubaisi, on the peculiar style of the kidnapping and by asking who might benefit from this situation.

However there does not seem to be any hard facts about the identity of the kidnappers, which makes it difficult to know what to do to work for our friends freedom. All we can do is continue to pray and gather support from the whole world, hoping that whoever the kidnappers are they may be swayed by this and show mercy to four people who are loved so dearly and have given so much of themselves to help Iraq.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Support from around the world

Unfortunately there is still no news on our kidnapped friends, who were taken ten days ago. However support for them continues to flood in from all over the world. Un Ponte Per has recieved many dozens of statements of support from groups all over the Islamic world. One person reminds us of an important principle in the Holy Qu'ran:
  • "O you who believe! When you go forward (to fight) in the way of Allah, be careful to discriminate, and say not unto one who offers you peace: "You are not a believer." (An-Nisa': 94)

Support has come, among others, from:

Basrah University
September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows
The Palestinian Peace Centre
Gaza Community Mental Health Programme
Japanese Campaign for the Abolition Depleted Uranium Weapons
The World Tribunal on Iraq
German Free Iraq Solidarity Committee
SOS Iraq (Belgium)

Noam Chomsky
Naomi Klein
Tariq Ali
Tony Benn
Dick Eastman, 9/11 investigator critical of Bush
Chiyomi Kobayashi, Japanese Representative working for removal of Japan force from Iraq.
Ismaeel Dawood, Iraqi Human rights activeist

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Support from all over Muslim world

Bridges to Baghdad has recieved statements of support for the hostages from many Muslim organisations and individuals including:

Committee of Muslim Scholars, Iraq
Study Center Human Rights & Democracy, Falluja
Shaykh Jawad al-Khalissi, Imam of Baghdad
Hezbollah, Lebanon
Abassi Madani, the exiled Algerian leader of the Islamic Salvation Front
Islamic Jihad, Palestine
Muslims against US-led Occupation of Iraq
Land Research Center, Palestine
Arab League of the Red Crescent
Palestine General Federal Trade Unions, Gaza Strip
Palestinian Foreign Affairs Minister
Palestinian Civil Society Organisation
Palastinian NGO Network (PNGO)
Palestinian Labor Union
Palestinian National & Islamic Political Forces
Palestinian National Initiatives
Tariq Ramadan
The Association for Brotherhood, culture and social work, Beirut
Fadila Kadiri, Moroccan parliamentarian
Internationale Federation victims du terrorisme, Algerian section
International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Support rally in Firdus Square, Baghdad

Hundreds of women and children rallied this morning in Firdus Square, outside the Palastine hotel in central Baghdad, calling for the release of the two Simonas, Ra'ad and Mahnoaz.

"No to violence and the executions and kidnappings of foreigners", read one banner, "Let us live in peace and friendship," read another. Leading the procession were around 50 disabled people in wheelchairs and children holding flowers. "Hostage-taking contradicts the values of Islam, which opposes any aggression against women, children or innocents," said Basel Abdelwahab al-Azzawi, representing an umbrella group of civil rights organisations.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Frattini visits Gulf

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini has been visiting Gulf countries, working for the release of the Simonas. "I hope that the contacts of these days bring good results, {but] obviously today it is completely impossible to speak about new developments... At the moment secrecy is an obligation so as not to compromise any path. Yesterday in Kuwait and today in Abu Dhabi we have acquired information about the kidnapping of Simona Pari, Simona Torretta and two of their Iraqi colleagues, which we are evaluating." At the moment, he said, one can talk "neither of optimism, nor of pessimism. We are evaluating and checking all the elements gathered." (al-Arabiya)

Simona Toretta interview from February

Democracy Now radio is airing an recording from February in which Simona Toretta explains why she went to Baghdad: "Iraq is a Part of My Life"

Hungry strike by Algerian Islamist

Abassi Madani, Exiled leader of the Algerian Islamic Salvation Front has begun a hunger strike "until death" in Qatar in solidarity with civilians taken hostage in Iraq, including our four friends, calling on the presumed Islamist kidnappers to "immediately free" the captives. "This is a humanitarian duty because it is a humanitarian battle. It would be wrong to confine it to political or ideological dimensions," he said. We are grateful to Abassi Madani for taking such a strong action in support of our friends.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Muslims Against The Occupation statement

Simona Toretta and Simona Pari ARE NOT SPIES. They are committed peace activists who have risked their lives time and time again to help Iraqis, even in the middle of fierce US assaults on cities such as Falluja and Najaf. They have risked their lives for an Iraq free of occupation and for Muslims to live lives of dignity, respect and a decent standard of living. They have opposed the goals of US, British, Italian and even post-transfer Iraqi governments with great energy and love for Iraq, Muslim culture and the Muslim world more broadly.

All four individuals, even the two Italians, are Muslims in the purest sense of the word in that they have totally submitted themselves to the will of Allah to work against the occupation and for justice and peace even at the risk of their lives. We ask our brothers who are holding them, would the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) kidnap or harm people such as this, no matter what a government they have no control over has done to Muslims?

Full statement (Word file)

Support from Palestine

The Palestinian leadership, which includes the Palestinian Liberation Organisation of Yasser Arafat as well as Islamic and nationalist groups, said in a statement, "We call for the release of all civilians kidnapped in Iraq, in particular the two French journalists and the two Italian nationals." An Islamic Jihad official meanwhile called on the captors of the Italians to free them, telling AFP that "this kidnapping can not serve the Iraqi people," while also calling on Italy to withdraw its forces from Iraq.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Purported statement by the Islamic Jihad Organisation

A purported statement by the Islamic Jihad Organization has threatened that the two Simonas will be killed unless Italy begins withdrawing its forces from Iraq. "What will happen in the coming few hours will be related to the withdrawal from Iraq. We will not accept any substitute for that. We will not calm down or give in until those nonbelievers leave the land of the holy campaign, and until Islam's followers enjoy security in Iraq.Before we gave Berlusconi 12 hours to meet our conditions for the release of the two prisoners, we now renew the duration for another 24 hours from the time of issuing this statement. If we don't see the Italian troops withdraw from the land of Iraq, we will implement Allah's judgment on them, which will be slaughter... It is the acts committed by the Italian troops in Iraq which are above all responsible for the (capture of the) two Italians." The statement appeared today on the public bulletin board of www.yaislah.org a Web site often used by militant groups. It is hard to verify this, and the new information is confusing given that the previous statement, on Friday, was in the name of a different (also unknown) group Ansar a-Zawahiri. It is not clear when the statement was posted, but it was noticed by the media at about 11am GMT today. Last month a group calling itself Islamic Jihad Organization claimed responsibility for an attack on the offices of an Iraqi political party.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Islamonline dialogue with friends of hostages

Islamonline.com hosted a dialogue with Iraq and international friends of Ra'ad, Mahnoaz and the Simonas. It has also begun collecting appeals supporting them.

Iraqi blogger Khalid Jarrar says: "I have known these women for along time, I know the activities they were involved in: They were building schools and hospitals, providing water to remote villages, promoting humanitarian aid, medicine, and working on educational programs. They care about the Iraqi people. They have adopted the Iraqi case as if it was their case."

Kathy Kelly from Voices in the Wilderness says: "Simona’s character and courage were very obvious throughout the terrible bombing attacks. She comforted people, including grandparents and children. She maintained calm which helped the teenagers and others. People readily loved Simona and appreciated the fact that she didn’t leave them when times were especially difficult. Immediately after the occupation began, Baghdad streets still weren’t safe. I was amazed by Simona’s dedication to he work. She was traveling with medics into Baghdad neighborhoods and areas on the outskirts of Baghdad to deliver needed meds and bring medical attention. I deeply admire Simona Toretta."

British film-maker/activist Julia Guest says: "Everytime I saw both Simona Pari and Simona Torreta, they were engaged in an act of building a link with communities and giving help where they could. I traveled on a coach into Fallujah during the siege, carrying some of the medical aid they sent in. It was saving lives... in the darkest hour."

Kathy Kelly tells a story about Ra'ad: "Ra'ad had assigned his [engineering] students a project in which they were to construct bridges made of paper clips, string and cardboard – the projects were due April 25th. After the occupation began, Raad went to his students’ neighborhoods and tried to make a radio broadcast to say that their projects were still due! He felt that the students needed to feel the accomplishment of completing work that helped reinforce attentiveness to detail and innovation ... more than ever, their skills of rebuilding and imagination would be needed."

Friday, September 10, 2004

Qaradawi says release Simonas but fight invaders

Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, head of the International Association of Muslim Scholars, called for the release of the two Simonas. "While Italy joins in the war on Iraq, millions of Italians took to the streets to demonstrate against the war. Moreover, the two hostages work for a humanitarian organization which has nothing to do with the war. Muslims are forbidden from kidnapping innocent people who have nothing to do with wars." Qaradawi also said: "Fighting the American invaders in Iraq is an obligation... Islamic tenets stipulate the killing of civilians is forbidden, but those who fight the Iraqis must be killed as they are invaders."

More statements of support from Islamic groups

"The Palestinian National Iniziative (in Ramallah) calls for the immediate release... of Simona Pari and Simona Torretta, who have been working for years as part of the organization “A Bridge to Baghdad” in support of Iraqi children... that is well-known for its positions against the embargo and against the war on Iraq...[they] never abandoned Iraq, not even during the war, never interrupting their work aimed at helping Iraqi children under the bombings, and risking their own lives especially in Falluja... [this] would be in the interest of the Iraqi People, of their brothers and sisters."

The Union of Islamic Communities and Organizations in Italy said: "Release Simona Pari and Simona Torretta immediately and unconditionally. Do not allow suffering to be added to suffering, bear witness to the debt of gratitude that is due to those who shared the suffering of the Iraqis during the years of the sanctions, who stayed in the country while bombs were raining down, who refused to abandon the country even during these last, horrible months of confusion and violence... In the name of the God of mercy and peace, if there is still a grain of faith in you, in the name of the solidarity that these women gave to those who needed it most, in the name of the justice between all God’s children which our religion and heritage demand of us all."

The Iraqi Community in Italy said:"Many of us, in recent years, have had the opportunity to get to know these two women and the organization they work with very well. We have learned to love them for everything they have done for our people. These two women stood against the embargo declared against Iraq and since then, and all the members of A Bridge to Baghdad, have always worked to mitigate the suffering of our people. They firmly and with great conviction opposed the war, precisely because they did not want our people to suffer its consequences. They were in Baghdad to help our children, to deliver medicines, to restore our archeological heritage, to provide drinking water …. They have spent – and will continue to spend – the best years of their lives for our people. They have had nothing to do with all the suffering of our people: no one more than them is further away from the agents that have caused our suffering. If Iraq is ever to live in peace and independence it will be thanks to people like our dearest, beloved Simona and Simona. WE BESEECH YOU, IN THE NAME OF GOD THE MOST MERCIFUL AND COMPASSIONATE, ON BEHALF OF OUR POOR AND DESPERATE PEOPLE, RENOUNCE ALL YOUR EVIL INTENTIONS. FREE THE TWO IRAQIS AND RELEASE THE TWO SIMONAS, SEND THEM HOME, BACK TO THEIR FAMILY, WHICH ARE THE CHILDREN OF IRAQ."

(translations by Lisa Clark, arabic originals here)

Demand from Ansar al-Zawahiri

APF reports that a new (unverified) statement on www.islamic-minbar.com allegedly from Ansar al-Zawahiri says: "We ask Italy to promise unconditionally to release all Muslim women prisoners from Iraqi prisons. In turn we will give a little information about the Italian female hostages. The Italian government has 24 hours to reply to our demands, otherwise Italian people will never discover the fate of the Italian women hostages." In a videotape broadcast last night on Al-Jazeera, Al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri forecast a US defeat in Iraq.

Ra'ad: stargazer and bookworm

The Iraqi man, Ra'ad Ali Abdul-Aziz, kidnapped along with the Italian girls is a longtime friend of many people from Voices in the Wilderness. Here is an article he wrote on star gazing. One benefit of blackouts and powercuts during the Iran-Iraq war was that Ra'ad as a boy was able to watch the stars without light polution! "I forgot the wars and the battles and I just thought about astronomy." Ed Kinane from Voices writes: "My most vivid picture of Raad was at his office. A friend had brought him a large box of books from overseas and I watched as Raad unpacked that box. He removed each book slowly, as if doing so were a kind of sacrament. With each new book he examined, his face shone with delight. With each book he exclaimed which of his friends or which of his students – he taught at the University – he would share it with." atold Democracy Now: "One thing I noticed is that almost every person that traveled over to Iraq who met him would want to come back to the United States telling stories about this extraordinary person. His life and interests has made it so accessible to better understand that Iraqis are ordinary people with loves and interests very similar to ours. The first time I met Raad, showing me a picture of a Frank Lloyd Wright building and asking me, do you know about this building, by any chance? It was one near our home here in Chicago."

Simona & Hanya

An Iraqi teenager, Hanya Bukit, who was treated for leukemia in a Rome hospital a to Simona Torretta who arranged for her to be flown to Rome in 2000 when a hospital in Iraq - then under UN sanctions - did not have the drugs necessary to treat her. Hanya, who is now 14 years old, spent a year and a half in Italy and went home in June 2002.

Torretta's mother, Anna Maria, explained that "a year ago, after the war and the bombings," her daughter Simona had lost contact with Hanya "but she and another aid worker braved the dangers of Iraqi roads to go and find her." The girl was in good health, she said, adding: "Hanya still speaks Italian and thanked everyone."

The photo here is also from the childrens' demo in Baghdad today.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Iraqi children demonstrate

Children who have been involved in Bridges to Baghdad projects demonstrated in Baghdad today with banners entitled "Release our Friends". Another banner said "Un Ponte Per Baghdad is a bridge for hope".

One mother on the demonstration said "My son has been sick since he was four years old, and through the long years of the embargo they were the only people supplying medicines and thereby keeping him alive. Now we are here because we are deeply moved and are praying that their lives will be saved."

There have also been many demonstrations in Italy, and messages of support from all over Iraq and the world.

Support from Fallujah

From the Fallujah Centre for Democratic Studies & Human Rights against US attacks and the kidnappings: (arabic original)

In the Name of God the Most Merciful and Compassionate.

And now the US occupation forces are once again betraying the civilians in Falluja and breaking all the agreements and the conventions that the world has known. As a result of the frequent mistakes of the US administration, careless and criminal towards our people, and in the midst of the river of blood which is what the occupation forces want, today, 7 September 2004, heavy and violent bombing has begun, with the use of all types of weapons, including those prohibited by international convention, such as cluster bombs. Under this bombing, the occupying military forces are advancing from many points, revealing once again their brutality, after all the blood that was spilled in the Holy City of Najaf. We ask all religious and political organizations, of all tendencies, local, Arab and international, to condemn this new massacre, today being perpetrated against the heroic Falluja, and to raise their voices to prevent this renewed violation of human rights, as occurred in April this year in this city. We further ask all honest Iraqis to stand together and not to allow the occupiers and their stooges to violate the symbol of our honour. We ask them to refuse the occupation and to defend the victims, even simply with their words.

Despite the fierce aggression and the tragedy we are living through, we heard of the kidnapping of two Italian women, Simona Pari and Simona Torretta, aid workers for “A Bridge to Baghdad”, and of two Iraqis with them. We want the kidnappers and the whole world to know that these women are among the few who helped the people of Falluja and the Iraqi people and even helped the wounded. Their good deeds speak for themselves. Therefore, we want those who are holding them captive to know that it is not in the tradition of honest Arabs and Muslims to take woman hostage or to speculate on them. There is no reason at all that could ever justify violence against innocent human beings to avenge the crimes of guilty rulers or mercenaries. For this reason, from the liberated city of Falluja, we demand that you immediately release the hostages unconditionally. Otherwise you will be damaging the reputation of the patriotic and honest resistance and you will place yourselves in an ambiguous position, a position that suggests your collaboration with foreign forces whose aim it is to leave Iraqi soil in the hands of foreign occupiers. The best example we can give you of the goodness of these two women is the support they provided to the people of Falluja during the fighting last April when, together with some journalists and peace activists, they offered themselves as human shields in the attempt to rescue some civilians who were besieged in the Al-Askari neighbourhood. Is this the reward they deserve?

God the most merciful and compassionate said that those who perform an act of goodness shall reap its benefits, while those who perform a bad deed will see it turn against themselves. God spoke the truth.

More statements of support (in english, italian and arabic) on Un Ponte Per

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Where to find information

Most of the information and speculation about the kidnapping is appearing in the Italian media. If you don't read Italian, then you can get rough automatic translation of an Italian Googlenews search or news posting on Carta the progressive Italian magazine (also translated). Here is a search of the English language press. Bridges to Baghdad is keeping a list of statements of support here.

Sign the Petition

We are individuals and organizations from around the world who opposed and continue to oppose the occupation of Iraq and we plead for the release of two Italian and two Iraqi humanitarian workers who were abducted in Iraq last September 7, 2004.

Simona Pari and Simona Torretta, both Italians, and Ra'ad Ali Abdul Azziz and Mahnoaz Bassam, both Iraqis, are members of Un Ponter Per Baghdad (Bridges to Baghdad) an independent Italian humanitarian organization that has been working in Iraq since 1992. During the embargo, other humanitarianorganizations refused to operate in Iraq, Bridges defied that in the belief that the suffering of civilians should not be used as a political bargaining chip.
In this occupation, the United States and its coalition cynically blurred the distinction between the humanitarian and the political, using aid and relief as an apparatus for pacifying the Iraqis. As a result, Iraqis have become increasingly and understandably suspicious of international humanitarian organizations. Despite the perils caused by this confusion, Bridges consciously decided to continue its operations in Iraq, convinced that Iraqis will see through their intentions.
Bridges is not an instrument of the Italian government, nor of the US-led coalition, to make the occupation more bearable, and therefore, more acceptable to the Iraqis. From the very beginning, Bridges has been open and consistent with its positions: it opposed the embargo, it opposed the invasion, and it opposes the occupation. In Italy, Bridges has been a leading critic of the government's decision to join the US-led coalition.

It plays a leading role in the nation-wide movement that mobilized over a million Italians to march against the war in February 15, 2003, as well as in various demonstrations after. Bridges has also been very active in the global anti-war movement, maintaining links with various anti-war organizations around the world and playing a key role in establishing the Occupation Watch Center in Baghdad, a center for monitoring the occupation founded by anti-war organizations and coalitions from different countries.

Simona Torretta has spent a third of her life for Iraq; Simona Pari joined her in 2003. As chief of Bridges' in-country operations, Simona Turreta has been supervising projects to rehabilitate Iraq's decrepit water infrastructure and to repair school buildings. Among other things, Simona Pari was organizing educational programs for Iraq's traumatized children. Ra'ad is an Iraqi engineer who took charge of Bridges¹ school projects in Baghdad and Basra. Manaf was involved in the social programs. Aside from these projects, Bridges has also helped build the capacity of local Iraqi organizations to document and report cases of human rights abuses committed by occupation forces. In April this year, Bridges organized a humanitarian convoy that delivered food, water, blood, and medicine to civilians under siege in Fallujah. Last month, as US and Iraqi interim government forces mounted their offensive in Najaf, Bridges was also there, providing aid and assistance to Iraqis caught in the crossfire. Simona, Simona, Ra'¹d and Mahnoaz are not enemies of the Iraqi people. They stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them in calling for an immediate end to the occupation. We appeal to those holding them to release them immediately.

We also call on the Italian government to immediately withdraw its membership in the US-led coalition. We call on the United States and the remaining members of the coalition to end the occupation.

Sign here: http://www.petitionspot.com/petitions/freeourfriends