Carl Asks: “What will be my fate?” [Archives:2001/23/Law & Diplomacy]

June 4 2001

Hassan Al-Zaidi
Yemen Times
After successfully filing an exclusive story on the kidnapping of Carl Christian Hoerencke, Yemen Times Editor-in-Chief decided to send me for one of the most challenging missions of my life. He decided to send me to where he was to file an interview of a lifetime. After much planning and anticipation, I agreed to do the job, even though I was doubtful that I could make it. Eventually, I was able to make the interview, which could have cost me my life.
I arrived back to Sana’a after successfully interviewing Carl in extreme circumstances and after a journey, which was one of the most dangerous and life-threatening journeys of my life.
I was almost killed in crossfire with security forces, which shot at our vehicle randomly and resulted in the flattening of our tires. After a 12-hour drive to the area, what we found was astonishing and heart breaking. We found Carl is in critical conditions, in conditions that he had never dreamed of being in before.
I was barely able to make a short interview in a few minutes amid threats by the kidnappers not to try to make any move to rescue the kidnapped. Much of the information and phrases that have been reported were memorized and written down.
Of course, as I said before, even though the kidnapped was not in a condition to talk easily for the interview, with insistence and encouragement I was able to make him answer most of the questions I had in mind. Carl also sent a letter to the German Embassy explaining his difficult situation. Even though I risked his life for the interview, I was still glad that I was able to complete my mission successfully.
The interview was carried out around 2:00 am on Saturday in a mountainous area full of mosquitoes and different insects and in temperatures exceeding 30 degrees centigrade. According to what I saw and what I felt, the conditions of Carl were miserable. He seemed to be without much sleep and he complained of his conditions, and in particular about the mosquitoes that have been biting him during the sleepless nights he spent in an open area near a tent that was placed next to his sleeping mattress. He complained of the food and clothes. He was in truly miserable conditions, unlike when he was seen last time, around one week ago.
Here are some excerpts from the interview.
Q: You were kidnapped last Saturday. How did it happen?
A: I was kidnapped by 5 armed men in Tahrir Square at around 17:15 and they took me to a mountainous area through bumpy unfamiliar roads for almost 2.5 hours. We were moving at extremely high speed until we reached the place were I was kept.
Q: You were kidnapped by armed tribesmen belonging to the Al Ali bin Falah tribe of Jahm. What kind of tribe is it? What aims do they have?
A: It is a group of armed tribesmen. Their aim of the kidnapping is to release 4 of the prisoners that belong to their tribe and who are currently held in Dhamar. They have been sentenced to have their hands and legs cut off. This is what I understood from them.
Q: Where exactly are you kept and under what conditions?
A: I don’t know where I am exactly. But I sleep outside in hot weather and am bitten by a lot of mosquitoes. Everyday the situation seems to get worse.
Q: How are you being treated? Do you get sufficient food (what kind of food)? How are the hygienic conditions you are facing (facilities to wash etc.)?
A: The treatment is not good any more. It was much better during the first days after being kidnapped. The conditions are terrible. The food is bad. I have bad clothes. I sleep outside in a tent and as I said and I have been bitten by many mosquitoes. I am surrounded by tens of armed men and the situation is getting worse every day.
Q: How would you describe your physical and mental state of conditions?
A: My situation overall gets worse and worse, especially since I don’t know my fate, and what is awaiting me.
Q: Are you informed about any steps taken for your liberation? If so by whom?
A: They made me feel that there are no mediations and no efforts to release me. All I was told is that the military forces are slowly approaching the area where I am at and they are 40 kms away from us right now. They are surrounding us from the northeast and I don’t know what will happen. By the way, how do you expect me to know anything myself while being in such conditions in a remote valley between the mountains?
Q: You lived in Yemen for a couple of months, you have studied Arabic. Can you describe the different groups/tribes?
A: Refuses to answer. (Carl’s conditions are not in a state that allows him to answer such questions)
Q: What do you need, is there anything we can do for you? What kind of help could we send to you by your friends or any other messenger?
A: All I need is to be released and go back to Sana’a as soon as possible. I don’t want my mother and father to worry about me if they already knew that I was kidnapped. If they didn’t know about it, I prefer that they don’t know. [The interviewing journalist tells Carl that his family already knows and that his father is already in Sana’a.]
Q: Do you think it would be helpful for your case to put pressure on the government of Yemen or to discuss in the media the role of the supreme court in Sana’a and the decisions of the lower court?
A: I would like to Yemeni government to guarantee a fast release of the 4 prisoners in Dhammar. I was assured that after the arrival of these prisoners, I’d be released immediately.
Q: Could you describe what kind of work you did in Sana’a and why you went to Yemen? Why have you chosen this country?
A: I have come to Yemen to study Arabic and I study it at the Center for Arabic Language and Eastern Studies. I also teach in one of the private institutes in Sana’a.
Q: What are you missing most of all?
A: My freedom.
Q: What do you expect, how long will you be kept in confinement?
A: The kidnappers made me feel that my captivity will be longer if their imprisoned men in Dhammar are not released. Initially, I expected to stay for one week. But now the week has passed, but I was not released.
Q: What do you think the German government could do for you?
A: I want the German Embassy to inform the Yemeni government about my critical situation in order to guarantee a fast release of the 4 prisoners in Dhammar.
After the interview, I headed back to Sanaa through the bumpy roads thinking to myself, “When one gets closely acquainted with the situation of tribesmen in this area and sees them fully armed while leading a miserable life likened to those of the middle ages, he can realize the extent of suffering and damage that has befalling these areas. The deteriorated economic and social situation may be the cause that pushes them to form gangs for kidnapping and robbery. This situation necessitates the existence of balance in development process in the country. Kidnapping the German citizen, which is the second incident of its kind in 2001, may draw attention of the new government to this phenomenon. This is a significant problem needing special treatment while taking into consideration that former governments were attributing it to the interference by foreign forces paying for their perpetration . The incident acquires a special meaning as it came a day after the graduation of a batch of special forces, under command of Ahmed Ali Abdulla Saleh, the elder son of the president. These troops are specialized in combating terrorism and kidnapping in addition to rescuing the kidnapped and guaranteeing their safety.
Tackling the phenomenon of kidnappings needs to be comprehensive and not be confined to forming such units. The recent incident is the 136th kidnapping incident of foreigners in Yemen since 1993, including diplomats, businessmen, tourists and employees. It is not always force or combating tactics that form solutions, it is sometimes more efficient and useful to respect those tribes and talk to them, know their sufferings, know their worries and concerns. One needs to think why they are in such conditions of little health and poor living standards. What makes them commit such risky kidnapping incidents that could lead to their death.
This is why I asked the kidnappers a simple question: “How can you disagree or object to a ruling that came from the supreme court? Don’t you trust in the judicial system?”
They answered wisely and calmly by saying, “It is not the judicial system that we don’t trust. We only demand justice. We know that the sentence against our sons was unjust and is a sort of humiliation to our tribe in general. We admit that they attempted to steal a car once, but if President Saleh had punished all the true crooks who steal millions from the public funds, we will be the first to bring our sons to justice and the first to ask for their execution.”With regards to the solution of force and new military tactics, we asked, “What if the special force units that recently graduated attempted to rescue Carl their own way?” Their answer was simple, “It is too early to answer this question. But we assure you, Carl will certainly be the scape-goat of the government’s own actions.”