The 21st Century Phenomenon



Three Romanian journalists:reporter Marie Jeanne Ion, 32, and cameraman Sorin Dumitru Miscoci, 30, from Bucharest-based television station Prima TV, and Ovidiu Ohanesian, 37,who works for daily Romania Libera, were snatched by unknown abductors in Baghdad’s al-Mansur district, on Monday 03/28/2005. The hostage-takers demanded the retreat of the 860 Romanian troops in Iraq in return for the journalists’ release. The Romanian journalists were rescued after 55 days in captivity, on 05/22/2005. Their kidnappers: Mahmoud Khaled Al-Omar, Abdel Jabbar Abbas Jasem Al-Samani, Ibrahim Yassin Kaathem Al-Jabouri, Omar Jassam Muhammad Ali Al-Salmani and Yussef Munaf Muhammad Amin Al-Amin, the brother of the American citizen Mohammed Munaf, were all captured and interrogated.  


* Omar Hayssam, born on 01/03/1963 in Syria, arrived in Romania as a student at the beginning of the 1980s, graduating from the Railroads, Roads and Bridges Faculty of the Bucharest Construction Institute. He married Adela, had seven children, and became a Romanian citizen after the Romanian revolution in 1989. 


Omar Hayssam was arrested in Romania, on 04/05/2005. Prosecutors charged him and Mohammad Munaf, the journalists’ Iraqi guide and Hayssam’s business partner, with organizing the abduction to help Omar Hayssam escape organized crime charges in Romania. According to the prosecutors, Omar Hayssam organized the kidnapping because he was being investigated in several cases of financial fraud, and was looking for a way to leave the country with a large sum of money. His businesses included mineral water bottling, shops, a car dealership and manufacturing. Romanian media speculated that Omar Hayssam had hoped prosecutors would drop the organized crime charges when he presented himself as a go-between. He would then unblock his bank accounts, which had been frozen as part of the financial investigation, pay a fictitious ransom, and become a “national hero” when the hostages were released.


After a local court let him leave a prison hospital to recover at home, following surgery for colon cancer, Omar Hayssam, on 07/12/2006, disappeared. His escape triggered the resignation of the chief prosecutor and the heads of the Romanian security service.


On 06/13/2007 Omar Hayssam was sentenced in absentia to 20 years in jail.


* Mohammed Munaf was born in Iraq in 1952(3) and is an American citizen since 2000. In 2001 Mohammed Munaf immigrated to Romania with his wife and five children and became a business partner of Omar Hayssam. 


In 03/2005, Mohammed Munaf, traveled to Iraq as the interpreter and facilitator of the  three Romanian journalists Marie Jeanne Ion, Sorin Dumitru Miscoci and Ovidiu Ohanesian,. Shortly thereafter, all four were taken hostage when their vehicle was blocked by several armed men, including his brother Yussef Munaf.  


Mohammed Munaf himself disguised as an Islamic militant, appeared in a video footage on 04/01/2004 as the spokesman of Mouadh Ibn Jabel Brigade and asked for immediate withdrawal of Romanian troops from Iraq.


The name Mouadh Ibn Jabel Brigade and the place were the Romanian journalists were held implicated the group also with the kidnapping of the French Journalist Florence Aubenas, kidnapped in Iraq on 01/05/2005, along with her interpreter Hussein Hanoun al-Saadi and five others.   


Mohammed Munaf and his five co-conspirators had confessed about their involvement in the kidnapping plot at several investigative hearings before an Investigative Hearing Judge. All kidnappers were sentenced to death in 10/2005. His sentence was overturn by a higher Iraqi court, on 02/29/2008, and remanded the case to the lower court for further proceedings (see also – Shawqi A. Omar). 


Mohammed Munaf was sentenced, on 04/24/2008, in absentia in Romania to 10 years in prison, and 2,000,000 Euros in penalties to each kidnap victim. Today (09/2009) Mohammed Munaf is kept in Iraqi jail.
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