- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 9, 2007

BAGHDAD — Kidnappers attempting to evade capture in Iraq have hit on a new, risk-free method of collecting ransom payments: the homing pigeon.

Iraqi police say they have recorded repeated instances of kidnappers leaving homing pigeons on the doorsteps of their victims’ homes, with instructions for the families to attach cash to the birds’ legs. The pigeons then deliver the ransom to the gangs’ hide-outs.

Pigeon-keeping is a popular hobby in Iraq, and enthusiasts say that some of the stronger birds can carry weights of up to 2½ ounces on each leg.

Abo Ali, a pigeon seller in the al-Gezel market, said Iraqi birds, known as zajil, were very strong and known for their homing abilities.

One family attached $10,000 in $1,000 notes to the legs of five homing pigeons, which they found in a cage left on their doorstep.

Ziad al-Fatlawi, a doctor, said his 12-year-old son Firas was kidnapped three weeks ago on his way back from school to the family home in the wealthy al-Harthia area of Baghdad.

He said they received a call to say their son was safe and to await instructions. Later that day, there was a knock on the door.

“I opened it and found a cage with five pigeons inside it and a note. It said to tie a $1,000 bill to each of the pigeons’ legs and release them at 8 o’clock the next morning, or I would find my son’s body in the city morgue,” he said.

Unwilling to trust the police, he complied with the demand. His son later said he was freed less than 30 minutes after the pigeons came in with the cash.

Lt. Saad al-Jelawi, who works in the Ministry of the Interior, said pigeons had been used in several ransom demands.

He said the gangs started to use the birds after police ambushed several kidnappers as they picked up the money. “They know that we don’t have any kind of modern devices to follow the pigeons to their landing place,” he said.

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