It was like a scene from an action movie, but this case was real.
In the midst of the Syrian civil war, retired U.S. Maj. Gen. Paul E. Vallely and his Syrian Opposition Liaison Group, or SOLG, were instrumental with the help of the Free Syrian Army in obtaining the release of two Swedish journalists, Niclas Hammarstrom and Magnus Falkehed, who had been held captive for a month and a half by bandits in Syria.
As freelance journalists, Hammarstrom and Falkehed were abducted in the Qalamoun mountains and held near the village of Arsal al Ward.
One of the captives had been shot in the leg while attempting an escape but remained in reasonably good health.
It all happened while the current U.S. commander in chief, Barack Obama, was in Hawaii playing one of his innumerable rounds of golf.
Vallely heads the group “Stand Up America” and has been a vocal critic of Obama and his policies, especially what he calls “purges” of high ranking U.S. military officers who do not agree with the Obama administration’s social experimentation of openly “gay” personnel serving in the military, women in combat and the highly restrictive rules of engagement which imposes deadly limits on U.S. troops in combat zones.
Because of the direction they are taking the nation, in a recent “National Call to Action” Vallely expressed the goal of “forced resignations” through a “demand resignation” process for Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Vallely and his Middle East expert, Col. Nagi N. Najjar, through SOLG had requested assistance of the FSA to seek the journalists’ release and then they coordinated with Swedish Embassy officials in Beirut in obtaining their release, which occurred earlier this month.
Najjar is the liaison officer for FSA Commander in Chief Col. Riad el-Asaad and manages the SOLG, a creation of Vallely’s Stand Up America U.S. Project, which continually monitors the humanitarian, political and security environment in Syria.
The bandits who took the Swedish journalists were Omar Osman Kotmeish and Osman Kotaimh, both from the village of Arsal al Ward; Ezzo Duqqu, a local reported drug dealer from the village of Tfeil; Ghassan F. Haider and Amjad Hammoud, both reported drug dealers from the village of Rankous; and a woman identified only as “N” who worked with Hammoud.
“N” claimed to be a Lebanese journalist and an activist in the Syrian revolution. She, along with the others, would lure journalists into Syria and kidnap them and hold them for ransom.
In an interview with WND, Najjar said that the bandits were led by Ezzat Decco and a band of 10 accomplices.
“We succeeded in locating them through a local FSA brigade that informed us of their whereabouts, and then SOLG notified the Swedish authorities,” Najjar said.
He said they actually were being held in a “safe house” in the village of Tfeil, which is in Lebanon near Syria.
The Swedish journalists were being held in an area called Britel, which is notorious for being a location of outlaws where even the Lebanese army won’t go. The area is known for counterfeiting and its smuggling routes into Syria.
He added that the kidnappers had no political affiliation but were local smugglers in the Qalamoun mountains.
Vallely said that the SOLG led secret negotiations between the Swedish authorities, the Swedish police and the FSA under the command of Assad el Khatib in the Qalamoun region.
They were aided by Abu Malek from the al-Nusra Front, along with FSA Capt. Firas Bitar.
At the political level, he said, they were helped in getting local forces in the region to force the captors to release them.
Among those assisting at the political level were Jihad Khaddam, son of the former Syrian Vice President; Abdel Halim Khaddam; and Okab Saqr, a member of the Lebanese parliament. It was Assad el Khatib, as chief of the Liwaa al-Qadisyia, who was the main negotiating authority in securing their release.
In attempting to find out just how the FSA persuaded the bandits to release their Swedish captives, Najjar in an interview with WND indicated that el Khatib had to undertake more forceful measures.
Najjar said that one of the brothers of one of the kidnappers was abducted, then a week later a second was abducted, “increasing the pressure … telling them tit-for-tat … They also raided several homes belonging to the relatives of the kidnapper as an intimidation move, (sending) the message to release them or your relatives will be killed otherwise.
“The pressure worked,” Najjar said of a back-and-forth mechanism that led to six weeks of negotiations, which led to the release of the Swedish journalists.
According to Vallely, a number of other Western journalists have been kidnapped inside Syria. He said that his group has been instrumental in obtaining the release of some other captives, including other journalists in the past, and indicated that Najjar and SOLG also will be working for those people who remain in captivity.
Vallely’s work is particularly challenging – and dangerous – since he and Najjar recently became the subject of targeting by al-Qaida for their active support of the FSA.
They are committed to halting al-Qaida but Najjar said that the FSA needs direct assistance to fight what he described to the UK Independent “Syria’s three-way war of the Free Syrian Army rebels fight(ing) the regime (of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad) and, now, the Islamists.”
Najjar told WND that the FSA can deal with the al-Qaida threat since it has the manpower, but it does not have enough military support “and discipline.”
Najjar outlined the complexity of the challenge facing the FSA.
“Besides the al-Qaida forces, the Muslim Brotherhood, supported by Turkey and Qatar have several militias internally, super well-armed, staying on the side,” Najjar said.
They do not participate in the fight against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, rather, the MB is waiting until the FSA gets exhausted against the Assad regime, and then will make its move internally and and seize power, sources said.
“Syria is a complicated puzzle,” Najjar added. “You have to know who is doing what and the regional players. FSA is against the MB, FSA is against the AQ and FSA is against the Assad regime and Iran. AQ is against all, preaching for the Caliphate, Hezbollah, Iraq’s (Prime Minister Nouri) Maliki’s militia and the Iranian IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) are Iran’s mechanism to establish the Shiite ‘Crescent’ better known as the ‘Velayat el Fakih,’ spreading from Tehran, to Iraq, Syria & Lebanon.”