By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Feb. 6, 2008 - Al Qaeda's acts of murder, extortion and kidnapping to raise money and intimidate Iraqi citizens is backfiring on the terrorist group, a senior military officer posted in Iraq said today. A recently released video shows Iraqi commandos rescuing an 11-year-old Iraqi boy during a Jan. 29 operation conducted northeast of Baghdad, said Air Force Col. Donald J. Bacon, chief of special operations and intelligence information in Multinational Force Iraq's Strategic Communications Division.
Three days earlier, the youth had been taken for ransom by al Qaeda agents, Bacon said. The kidnappers had demanded $100,000, then $80,000, from the boy's parents to secure his release. The kidnappers had threatened to behead the youth if they weren't paid. The boy's father, a mechanic, couldn't afford to pay the kidnappers.
Intelligence information led Iraqi forces to the kidnappers' hideout, where the boy was safely rescued, Bacon said. The al Qaeda kidnapping cell is linked to 26 previous abductions, he added.
Al Qaeda in Iraq conducts kidnappings "as one of their sources of income in Iraq," Bacon explained. "They also use extortion," he added, such as when shopkeepers or other citizens are threatened by terrorists demanding "protection" money. However, "these tactics have clearly backfired," Bacon pointed out, noting citizens are "appalled" by the terrorists' thuggish acts.
Citizens' groups have emerged to help with security across Iraq "because of the rejection of al Qaeda and the tactics that have been used," Bacon said.
Despicable terrorist-performed acts of kidnappings, extortion and murder do not "play well" among the Iraqi populace, Bacon said.
A terrorist-made video captured during a Dec. 4 anti-insurgent operation conducted between Baqouba and Baghdad that depicts 11- to 12-year-old Iraqi boys being trained to commit terrorist acts is another example of how low al Qaeda will go, Bacon said. And the Feb. 1 double-suicide bombing conducted in Baghdad by two young women that killed more than 70 people has outraged Iraqi citizens, he added.
Investigations of the bombings have revealed that the two women were actually girls around age 17, he noted, both of whom seem to have suffered from Down syndrome.
Kidnapping 11-year-old children for ransom and threatening to behead them, training pre-teenage children how to commit terrorist acts, and using mentally disabled young women as suicide bombers reflect al Qaeda's depraved ideology, Bacon said.
"I think the acts of al Qaeda have undermined their support" among Iraqis, Bacon said. For example, violence across Iraq has decreased 60 percent over the past year, he noted.
While loathsome al Qaeda in Iraq acts may not presage imminent collapse of the group, they do represent desperate tactics that are being adopted because of continuing pressure applied by U.S. and Iraqi security forces and the contributions of concerned local citizens groups, the colonel said.
"We do think these acts are desperate," Bacon said. With the improved security situation in Baghdad, "it is harder for al Qaeda to get in car bombs," he noted.