05BUCHAREST1190 / 2005-05-23 13:55:00
Embassy Bucharest
                C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BUCHAREST 001190 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/23/2015 
     B. B) BUCHAREST 1030 
1. (SBU) This message contains information on an American 
Citizen protected by the privacy act. 
2 (C) Summary:  Romanians welcomed home from Iraq May 23 the 
three Romanian journalists released by kidnappers on May 22. 
President Traian Basescu thanked Romanian security services 
as well as authorities at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad for 
their efforts.  Although Romanian actions leading to the 
release remain unclear, Basescu is riding high politically, 
with most political commentators praising his efforts 
throughout the crisis.  The GOR continues to seek the return 
to Romania of U.S.-Iraqi dual national Munaf Mohmammad, who 
served as guide to the three journalists.  End Summary. 
3. (C) Romanian media covered heavily the afternoon of May 23 
the emotional return of the three Romanian journalists who 
had been held hostage in Iraq.  The return of the hostages 
brings an end to the 55-day crisis, which led to some calls 
domestically for Romania to reassess its troop presence in 
Iraq.  The press noted that not among the returnees was 
American-Iraqi dual national Omar Munaf Mohammad, who was a 
longtime resident of Romania and served as a guide for the 
journalists.  The President's office noted in a press 
statement that Mohammad remained in Iraq under detention by 
the Multinational Forces.  Throughout the crisis, post worked 
closely with the GOR in ensuring a constant exchange of 
information.  In the days before the release, however, the 
GOR had been relatively quiet and there had been no 
indication of the hostages' imminent release. 
Basescu: Thanks to Families, Intelligence Services 
--------------------------------------------- ----- 
4. (SBU) The first confirmation to post of the hostages 
release came in a May 22 telephone call from Basescu to 
Charge.  Shortly after that call, Basescu held a press 
conference broadcast on most major television and radio 
stations.  He announced that the hostages had been taken into 
the custody of the Romanian Embassy in Baghdad and would be 
returned to Bucharest soon.  He thanked first the families of 
the hostages for their "decency and decorous conduct," which 
played an important part in helping bring the hostages home. 
He expressed a special thanks to the Romanian intelligence 
services, which he said had executed "100 percent" the 
release of the hostages.  He specifically commended the 
Foreign Intelligence Service (SIE), Internal Intelligence 
Service (SRI) and Army Defense Intelligence Service (DIA) for 
their cooperation.  Among others, he also thanked the special 
Romanian anti-terror team sent to Baghdad, foreign 
intelligence services, Romania's Arab community, and "not the 
least", U.S. authorities in Baghdad for their support and 
help in transporting the hostages to the airport 
5. (C) Although he did not provide details on how the 
Romanian government obtained the release of the hostages, he 
said that Romania did not "negotiate its present or future 
foreign policy and did not pay any ransom."  He said that the 
case involving the hostages was "very complex," and he 
anticipated making another statement when it is completely 
resolved, "probably in a couple of weeks." (Note: Other top 
Romanian officials -- including PM Calin Popescu-Tariceanu 
have similarly emphasized that Romania had not paid a ransom. 
 Presidential counselor on security issues Constantin 
Degeretu again underscored directly to post that Romania "did 
not negotiate a ransom, did not negotiate money... we just 
tried to save lives."  End note.) 
A Different Kind of Kidnapping 
6. (C) Basescu's assertion that the case is "very complex" 
hit a strong chord with many in the Romanian media and 
independent local analysts.  From early on, the central 
belief has been that the kidnapping was orchestrated by 
wealthy Syrian-Romanian businessman Omar Hayssam.  According 
to general media opinion, Hayssam had been involved in 
nefarious business deals linked to prominent members of the 
opposition Social Democratic Party (PSD).  He then sought to 
orchestrate a crisis that he could solve and thus win the 
favor of Romania's new leadership.  This view of Hayssam was 
also shared by many in government.  Hayssam was arrested by 
Romanian police on corruption charges on April 5 and remains 
in detention.  As a close business associate of Hayssam, 
Munaf Mohammad has also been implicated in the case. 
According to the press, on May 22 the Romanian prosecutor's 
office stated that charges were pending in Romania against 
Mohammad in absentia for unspecified "economic crimes."  Some 
media reported separately that an arrest warrant had been 
issued against him. 
7. (C) Although Hayssam's arrest stirred Press allegations of 
a pervasive "Arab Mafia" in Romania, it is also clear that 
Romania sought assistance from the local Arab community and 
from Arab countries in resolving the kidnapping.  On May 23, 
Dr. Isam Rifai, head of a local Romanian-Arab business 
association, claimed that the hostages had "never been in 
danger" and that Romanian Arabs "used their influence" in 
Iraq to help with the case.  FM Ungureanu traveled to Syria 
on April 30.  The First Secretary at the Egyptian Embassy in 
Bucharest told PolChief that Romania had also approached 
Cairo for "any help possible" on the kidnapping. 
Presidential Counselor Degeratu also privately praised the 
contributions of the Romanian Muslim community in helping to 
resolve the crisis. 
Basescu "Riding High" 
8. (C) While the circumstances surrounding the kidnapping and 
the release remain opaque, as one political analyst conveyed 
to post, it is obvious that "Basescu is now riding high in 
public opinion."  The summer 2004 kidnapping and killing of 
two hostages from neighboring Bulgaria had been covered 
heavily in the Romanian media.  Many Romanians now expected 
the same for the three journalists and Mohammad, particularly 
after the kidnappers threatened to kill the hostages in 
April.  Although a few dissenting voices have questioned 
Basescu's "micromanagement" of the crisis, nearly all in the 
media are now lauding what is viewed as a success "against 
all odds" in bringing the hostages home.  A news director for 
Prima TV, which employs two of the journalists, thanked 
Basescu for "having the guts to resist pressures" during the 
crisis and managing the situation with utmost "efficiency." 
The mother of one of the hostages said she had "trusted the 
president until the end" and thanked him profusely for doing 
"all he could." 
9. (C) Several commentators also noted that Basescu may use 
this surge in popularity for other political ends, 
potentially to bring about a new cabinet shakeup or even snap 
parliamentary elections to bring a larger majority for the 
government led by the Liberal-Democratic alliance. (Note: 
Presidential Advisor Claudiu Saftoiu previously mentioned 
this possibility to PolChief in the event the hostages were 
safely released.  Saftoiu said at the time that Basescu had 
decided to remain relatively quiet about his interest in new 
elections during the crisis.  Saftoiu believed that Basescu 
could renew these calls after the hostage's return, 
particularly if PM Tariceanu agreed to a new vote.  End Note.) 
10.  (C) Comment:  The last month has been a hard one on 
Romania, as the hostage crisis deepened and torrential 
flooding in the western part of the country rendered many 
homeless.  This tension has now been replaced by jubilation 
over the hostages' release.  We anticipate that the GOR will 
continue to press for Mohammad's return, as they believe he 
may hold the key to the motivation for the kidnapping.  At 
the same time, however, Romania's commitment to a strong 
strategic relationship remains strong and we anticipate 
Basescu will stick to his word to keep Romanian troops in 
Iraq until their presence is no longer needed. 
11. (SBU) Comment continued:  On May 22, Consul General spoke 
by telephone with Munaf Mohammad's wife, Victoria Mohammad, 
who has dual U.S. and Romanian citizenship and resides in 
Romania.  CG confirmed that Mohammad had been released and 
committed to remain in contact and provide updates as 
appropriate.  End Comment. 

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