July 19, 2006

NOC Hostages in Iraq

On Saturday the head of the Iraqi Olympic Committee and a number of other top amateur sport officials were taken hostage in Baghdad:

… the kidnappers blindfolded and handcuffed all people in the room, police said. Police Lt. Thaer Mahmoud said Ahmed al-Hijiya, president of the committee, was taken around 1:30 p.m. local time along with other employees as they attended a conference in Karradah, a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad. Others seized included the deputy head of the Olympic committee, Ammar Jabbar al-Saadi; the chairman of the Taekwondo Federation, Jamal Abdul-Karim; and the chief of the Boxing Federation Union, Bashar Mustafa, police added.

This followed a number of even more horrific incidents involving athletes and officials over the past few months; the coach of the national wrestling team was killed on Friday, with one of his athletes escaping the would-be kidnappers. The head of the national karate association was found floating in the Tigris on July 10. Fifteen members of a taekwondo team were kidnapped on May 17.

On Sunday, six of the most recent hostages were released, including four bodyguards. Reports on Wednesday stated that four more had been found alive.

The chair of the Iraqi Olympic Committee is still in custody, if he is still alive. The Committee's spokesman, Emad Nassir Hussain, was shot in the leg, but not taken by the gunmen. He credits the fact that he was left for dead, rather than abducted, to the time he spent on an exchange program to the US. In a telephone conversation with a USOC staff member, Hussain stated:

You may have saved my life. You told me to never wear a suit. I was wearing a T-shirt, a red-and-white T-shirt I bought in California. The gunman just wanted the guys in suits. I guess they thought I cleaned the place.

A quick Google for Hussain's name turned up the following quote from 2004, where the spokesman describes the horror that was the Iraqi Olympic Committee under the old regime:

During the former regime, international sports gained a dark reputation after Iraq's Olympic Committee and soccer federation was put under the control of Saddam Hussein's son Udai in 1984. At the Olympic committee's headquarters in Baghdad, Udai was said to have torture rooms and had the reputation of being unforgiving for gaffes on the field. When athletes lost, they were punished through acts of violence and humiliation. For women that often meant rape. The result was years of women shying away from taking part in competitive sports, said Emad Nassir Hussain, the Iraqi Olympic Committee spokesman.
     —cited Chicago Tribune, 28 July 2004

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