November 19, 2013
On November 4, an unidentified militant group set up an ad hoc checkpoint as Dr. Ahmed Saleem drove to work and kidnapped him when he stopped. Saleem is a physician with the Saving Souls medical group in the Damascus suburb of Mleiha. The whereabouts of Dr. Ahmed al-Saleem remain unknown, and on November 9 the al-Mleiha Medical Center published a statement on its Facebook page denouncing the kidnapping as “contrary to the values and morals of the revolution” and calling on the Free Syrian Army to secure his release.
The kidnapping comes against the backdrop of a civil war in which medical and aid workers are increasingly under threat, as the United Nations has accused both regime and rebel forces of targeting hospitals and medical personnel.
Al-Mleiha is located in the East Ghouta area southeast of Damascus. It is controlled by the armed opposition but encircled by regime forces, and clashes are ongoing as the two sides struggle to control the area.
Syria Direct spoke with Dr. Hussam, a 35-year old urologist with the Mleiha Medical Center, who appealed to the public for any information about his kidnapped colleague.
Q: Dr. Hussam, do you have any information about Dr. Ahmed’s kidnapping? Do you know who was behind the operation?
A: The extent of our information is that several armed groups carried out a raid on the Medical Center, and also stopped an ambulance and abducted the doctor from inside of it as he was carrying out his humanitarian work. We’re doubtful that the regime carried out this operation. We blame the FSA [for failing to protect the medical team], and we contacted the FSA to ask for information about the incident and about Doctor Ahmed’s location, and we plan to stop working until we know where he is and what has happened to him.
Q: What can the FSA do to help in this situation?
A: They can protect the medical teams and their patients. It’s impossible for us to work under these circumstances, we need protection if we are to carry out our responsibilities. Some of the battalions here cooperate with us, but others don’t; there are some battalions here who have nothing to do with the FSA, and I think they are working with the regime to create dissension here. We never said that the FSA was behind the kidnapping, but we demanded that they search for Dr. Ahmad to help us determine what has happened to him.
Dr. Ahmed Saleem was kidnapped in Mlieha November 4th. Photo courtesy of Save a Soul, Eastern Ghouta.
Q: Did the kidnappers contact you for a ransom?
A: As far as I know, nobody has been contacted. We don’t know what will happen in the coming days, we don’t know who else will be kidnapped; we’re all under threat here. This is not the first time a doctor has been killed or disappeared in Mleiha.