Centanni Kidnappers: What Do They Want? Competing Theories

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Aug 24, 2006 1:58 PM

Scroll for updates...Statement from Centanni's brother...video of Ken Centanni...al-Qaeda 3.0?...and, the theories keep coming...Palestinian security forces did it?

Yesterday, we had the al-Qaeda theory, proffered by Rusty:

It is exactly as I feared. The Palestinian terror group that has taken Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig belongs to the cult of Abu Musab al Zarqawi. They have given the 72 hours notice. If their demands are not met, they will be murdered.
And, The Blotter's terrorism experts:
Also unusual for Palestinian militants was the extraordinary demand issued in the statement that "Muslim prisoners in U.S. jails be released within three days" in exchange for the two Fox journalists. Targeting journalists from an American news organization and making demands on the United States rather than Israel is not typical for Palestinian groups.

Going after the Great Satan? Check. Vague demands that couldn't really be met even if we wanted to meet them? Check. Friendly Muslim prosyletizing? Check.

Then there's this theory, which TIME addresses after talking to Palestinian security forces:

But Palestinian security sources tell TIME that the conditions presented Wednesday are little more than a stall tactic, and that the seizure of the two men has much more to do with internal Palestinian and Islamic militant politics than with striking a blow against Israel and the U.S.
Are they a Palestinian splinter group?
The Palestinian security sources told TIME that Holy Jihad Brigades is made up of gunmen who belonged to one of the many armed groups that splintered apart from the late Yasser Arafat s Fatah movement. Arafat's weak and distracted successor, Mahmoud Abbas, has failed to rein them in...These security sources say that most likely, the Holy Jihad Brigades was created for the sole purpose of carrying out this kidnapping.
Seems a lot of trouble to go to for a stunt that doesn't seem to be playing well for any Palestinians.
The true motivation behind the kidnapping, say these security sources, was to discredit both Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority — who rashly told U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that he could free the pair of journalists swiftly — and Ismael Haniyeh, the Palestinian prime minister, whose Hamas-led government has tried to crack down on Fatah splinter groups' roaming death squads and extortion rackets in Gaza.
But then there's the follow-the-money factor:
In addition, the Holy Jihad Brigades is hoping that by staging a high-publicity kidnapping of foreigners, they may attract the largess of the Lebanese militia group, Hizballah. In recent months, say Israeli intelligence officials, Hizballah has started to bankroll a wide array of Palestinian groups in Gaza and the West Bank in their battle against Israeli forces, and the Brigades may be hoping to join this lucrative club.

Neither theory sounds especially good for Centanni and his cameraman, Olaf Wiig. And, Abbas has skipped town to Jordan after promising he could get the prisoners released.

But just so the whole post isn't gloomy, this is an interesting passage from The Blotter:

If it is confirmed that a branch of al Qaeda is behind the hostage taking, it would represent a major new front for the terrorist organization, which has in the past deferred to Palestinian groups such as Hamas to conduct the "resistance" against Israel.Analysts believe that al Qaeda has expressed an increasing interest in the Arab-Israeli conflict for a number of reasons, one of which is their major setbacks in Iraq. Their tactics of beheading and mass murder of innocent civilians have not been popular with the majority of Iraqis, and their leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi was killed by a U.S. air attack two months ago.

Well, if that's the case, and all these guys are converging in Gaza, we're gonna have to get better at proxy warfare than we were last month.

Speaking of which...

Update: A statement from Centanni's brother, Ken Centanni, transcribed from Fox.

To the men who are holding my brother Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig. You reached out to us. Now allow me the opportunity to reach out with my words. I was able to see our brother Steve and his colleague Olaf in the video you released yesterday. It shows you have treated them with honor and I thank you. I heard them say you’re treating them with respect.

By now you know they cherish life. They have no power. They are not deal-makers. They are not politicians and they have no authority. Our brother and his colleague are in Gaza to report your story—nothing more and nothing less. It is in your control to resolve this matter. I respectfully request that you let our brother Steve and his colleague come home to their families.

Update: The video link for this statement, via Michelle.

Update 5:45pm: Oh dear.

The fact that it was the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF) that released these artifacts is very bad news. The group is an al Qaeda mouthpiece that generally distributes high-production value propaganda pieces.

The fact that the GIMF was not involved in the initial production of the video is a sign that the "Holy Jihad Brigades" is exactly as I feared: part of al Qaeda 3.0. What this means is that they are an al Qaeda inspired jihad gang, not directly under the control of the terror organization, but which is connected through a worldwide network of radical Salafists--most importantly through the internet.

More importantly, if they have made a connection with GIMF then it is likely that they see Abu Musab al Zarqawi as a source for inspiration. Zarqawi is infamous for popularizing the beheading murders of his hostage victims.

If this is the case--and these are words you may never hear repeated at The Jawa Report---then God help the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in finding them before it is too late.

I hope that I am wrong on this one, and there is some evidence to suggest that taking the Fox News reporters hostage has nothing to do with al Qaeda. However, the evidence trend seems to be that this is, at the very least, an al Qaeda inspired plot.

Update 6:08pm: Allah catches this detail...

Another top Hamas activist told the Post that his movement’s investigations have shown that the two journalists were initially kidnapped by members of one of the PA’s security forces. “The kidnappers, who wanted to put pressure on the Palestinian leadership to pay them their salaries, later handed the two over to Fatah gunmen,” he said. “They are now being held in one of the refugee camps near Gaza City.”