Grisly busi­ness amid the car­nage: Corpses held for ran­soms in Bagh­dad

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By Aqeel Hus­sein

BAGH­DAD — Crim­i­nals in Bagh­dad are steal­ing corpses from the scenes of car bomb­ings and killings in or­der to ex­tract ran­soms from griev­ing rel­a­tives.

In a macabre off­shoot of the cap­i­tal’s kid­nap­ping epi­demic, the gangs pose as medics col­lect­ing bod­ies to be taken back to the city’s over­flow­ing morgues.

In­stead, they take the corpses to se­cret places and de­mand pay­ments of up to $5,000 to re­lease each body to rel­a­tives for burial. Be­cause Mus­lim cus­tom dic­tates that a body must be buried as soon as pos­si­ble af­ter death, many fam­i­lies sim­ply pay up, rather than in­volve the po­lice.

“We have seen 40 fam­i­lies to whom this has hap­pened, where peo­ple said that they have had to pay money to re­ceive bod­ies,” said Dr. Mo­hammed al-Nas­rawi, an of­fi­cial at the Bagh­dad city morgue.

The new racket in “dead hostage tak­ing” is thought to be run by gangs con­nected to the city’s sec­tar­ian mili­tias, many of whom are in­volved in con­ven­tional kid­nap­pings.

Iraqi po­lice said the gangs of­ten re­spond to car bomb­ings, which can leave more than 100 corpses on the streets. In the chaos, po­lice and army units sel­dom ques­tion the cre­den­tials of peo­ple pos­ing as am­bu­lance crews.

Capt. Falah Saab al Mamouri of Iraq’s In­te­rior Min­istry de­scribed how one such gang — since ap­pre­hended — op­er­ated: “They would look for bod­ies that had iden­tity cards on them and then get in touch with the fam­ily.

“They would then ring the fam­ily of the dead per­son, tell them that their rel­a­tive has been killed, and then de­mand be­tween $3,000 and $5,000 to re­turn the body.

“Once the fam­ily had handed the money over to a mid­dle man, they would dump the corpse near the city morgue with the name writ­ten on a piece of pa­per pinned on the chest. Sooner or later some­one would hand it over to the morgue, and the fam­ily would find it there.”

The process is made sim­pler for the gangs by the cur­rent Iraqi habit of car­ry­ing around de­tails of their next of kin in case they are un­ex­pect­edly killed. Fre­quently, such con­tact de­tails are stored in a mo­bile phone.

Capt. al Mamouri added: “We no­ticed two am­bu­lance crews at the scene of a bomb­ing that were only tak­ing away bod­ies with mo­bile phones on them. The Iraqi Na­tional Guard ar­rested the crews and they con­fessed what they had been do­ing.”

He said that sub­se­quent in­quiries re­vealed that the crews had been em­ploy­ees of the Health Min­istry, and they had been stash­ing the bod­ies in hospi­tal mor­tu­ar­ies.

The min­istry is run by Shi’ite groups loyal to the rad­i­cal cleric Muq­tada al-Sadr and of­ten has been ac­cused of be­ing in­fil­trated by sec­tar­ian gangs.

Po­lice think, how­ever, that up to a dozen other gangs are op­er­at­ing the same way.

Some get their pick­ings from ar­eas known as “dead men’s cor­ners” — garbage dumps and other se­cluded spots, where vic­tims of sec­tar­ian gangs are of­ten dumped.

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