The Right Coast
October 03, 2004
Debka on French double dealing (I bet there's a French word for that)
By Tom Smith
Here's what Debka says happened to the two French journalist hostages:
On Thursday, September 30, an unforeseen occurrence laid bare a potential threat to this prognosis. A convoy of white Iraqi Nissen trucks, the favored vehicle for smugglers of people and illegal freight from Syria, was sighted northeast of Haditha heading along the Euphrates bank towards the Syrian border town of Abu Kamal, an al Qaeda-Baath depot for fighters infiltrating Iraq. US warplanes on constant patrol over the border region bombed the convoy, set some of the vehicles on fire and left six Iraqis dead.
Next day, Friday, October 1, Phillippe Evanno, aide to French parliamentarian Didier Julia, called an urgent news conference in Damascus with bad news; the convoy just bombed by the Americans was ferrying to Syria Georges Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot, the two French journalists taken hostage in Iraq on August 28. They had been freed, he explained, after being handed over by their abductors, the Islamic Army of Iraq, to another Iraqi guerrilla group.
DEBKAfile reports that in today’s Iraq such handovers are in fact cash sales, the money put up in this case most probably by the French government or some semi-official French organization. Evanno claimed there were two convoys; a French mediator Phillippe Brett drove in one and the two hostages were in the second. After the American bombardment, US troops surrounded the damaged vehicles. The passengers, including the two journalists fled and have not been heard of since.
Initially the French government and US military officials denied knowledge of this incident. However, on October 2, French foreign minister Michel Barnier criticized “unofficial negotiators” led by Julia for frustrating government efforts to gain the two hostages’ release.
The story behind this tale is revealed here by DEBKAfile’s counter-terror sources.
Immediately after Malbrunot and Chesnot were abducted, President Jacques Chirac launched an intense effort to secure their freedom. At the same time, he saw a chance not only of circumventing the US authorities in Baghdad, but torpedoing a potential Washington-Damascus rapprochement over joint military border action. To this end he took three steps:
1. He formed a special panel at the Elysee Palace of French intelligence officers and diplomatic advisers with good connections in Arab countries, such as the former UN secretary general Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who is well remembered in Washington for his contribution to the 1993 American military debacle in Somalia and the 1995 disruptions he staged in Bosnia with French intelligence.
A second panel went up in the French foreign ministry.
Both panels were mandated to explore every channel and connection for securing the two journalists’ release with the exception of American officials in Washington or Baghdad and circles identified with the Iyad Allawi government.
2. On August 31, Chirac flew to the Black Sea resort of Sochi to bid for help from Russian president Vladimir Putin and visiting German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. He left empty-handed. Nonetheless, he never once appealed to the US president, or turned to American diplomats, military or intelligence for assistance.
3. The French government tried broadcasting an appeal for help throughout its extensive web of connections in Arab countries, Iran and the extremist Muslim world, including the Hizballah terrorist group. When this appeal failed to bring any response, Paris established a semi-official forward rescue command in Damascus hoping to reach the hostage-takers through Syrian military intelligence’s close links with the Baath guerrilla officers and al Qaeda operatives organizing the clandestine transfer of fighters and arms into Iraq.
This command was staffed by Didier Julia, Philippe Brett and Philippe Evanno.
They got as far as buying the release of the two Frenchmen with a hefty payout to a Baath guerrilla group fighting in Fallujah. According to our sources, the deal was a package that also covered running the men out to Syria through one of the guerrillas’ smuggling routes.
However, when the American air force put paid to the scheme by raiding the departing convoy on its way to Syria, Paris disowned the Damascus forward command and accused the “unofficial negotiators” of doing more harm than good.
Remember, Debka is at least as reliable as CBS.