Georges Malbrunot

Tag: Georges Malbrunot

Pot-Luck and the Money-Shot

So here I am, into the edit for my film ‘The Pianist’, safe – or so it seems, in London. No news about Georges, my French friend kidnapped a couple of weeks ago and threatened with execution by The Islamic Army – the same people who killed Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni the week before. The latest official news is that Georges is in the hands of a more moderate group and is in the process of being handed back, although I have just been reading on the internet that the group are now asking for a 5 million dollar ransom. Just as things looked hopeful.

I’d gone on holiday to the Loire Valley in France, I remembered talking to Georges about going there whilst in Iraq. He recommended it as a place to relax after months in Baghdad. But I found it difficult to relax, disturbed by seeing Georges each hour as the headline news item. He’d been given 48 hours to live unless France revoked their law banning Muslims wearing head scarf’s in schools. I was counting down the hours in my head… when the 48 hours is up… then the further 24 hours… then nothing. Unimaginable, I kept thinking of him. The pizza we shared the last time we went for a meal in Pizza Reef, Baghdad. Even then, things were getting dangerous, but Georges was never fazed by this. You can’t afford to be if you are doing his line of work. If you are you’ll never go out. It is pot luck for the many journalists out there. No-one is safe, no matter what level of ‘security’ you have – a gun, an ex SAS soldier, a bullet proof car..

I remember sitting with journalists in the hotel when I first arrived back in January, thinking how long before we are targeted for kidnapping? Iraqis live under fear of being kidnapped and killed each day, and have done since their land was ‘liberated’ of Saddam, and left lawless by the Americans. They are taken and killed every day for a few hundred dollars. So it seemed like such a logical development that we would be next. I remember a photographer joking that he wouldn’t mind being kidnapped as long as they let him take some photos. A few months later on a return trip the same man was being held face down in the desert with a gun to the back of his head facing execution. Things had certainly moved on. Kidnapping of foreigners was now big business.

Now the journalists were stuck in the hotel fearful of going out. Sitting with them it wasn’t a question of who had been kidnapped it was a question of who hadn’t! Everyone had a story. Some much more scary then others. Some held for a few hours, after pulling out cameras on militants, trying to get that ‘money shot’… (freelancers can earn much more money if they take pictures as well as writing). But more often than not, it is committed journalists who take the risks for the sake of good journalism. I remember another friend who’d been picked-up walking through Fallujah, held for a few hours and released. The next day there was another story in Fallujah and so he headed straight back there. A bizarre commitment I thought, unfazed by the risk. You cannot afford to see it, if it gets to you, get another job.

I was told of a bizarre bonding process that happened with the people who almost kill you. Many journalists became friends with their captors. The photographer held face down in the desert with gun to the back of his head, became friends with his captors. He took a photo of them all waving their guns, the same guns they’d pressed against his head for 3 hours in the desert. He got the ‘money shot’ and his story became a front cover feature of a popular French magazine. When he returned to Iraq a couple of months later he called his former captors/friends and they invited him over… though half the militants on the front cover picture had been killed by the Americans the week before.

I don’t know what any of this means for the fate of Georges and his friend Christian. All we can do is hope.

Georges Malbrunot… Kidnapped

In the three or four weeks since I finished filming in Iraq I have felt no inclination to write anything for this blog. Until now, the news came of a friend kidnapped…. an American guy called Micha who I’d actually filmed with Samir, joking about what we’d do if we were kidnapped; it was the only time I found Samir speechless. But Micha had a dark sense of humour about the whole thing, and in a funny way I wasn’t surprised to see him on TV, on his knees flanked by seven hooded guys with guns. And it did actually happen, some months later, when I was back in the UK. But Micha got lucky; Moqtada al Sadr negotiated his release…..

Then came the news that Georges Malbrunot was missing.

I’d been anxious, having not heard anything of his whereabouts for a week. Georges was my neighbour in the cheapo Al Dulaimi hotel in Baghdad.

He was known as somewhat of an Iraqi expert, having worked there for many years; he was also a great fan of tabbouleh – we’d spend many nights eating this and talking about wine, women, and where to holiday in France. He’d recommended the Loire valley, which is where I am right now, on holiday. And where I picked a newspaper up today finding his face on the front; having been missing for a week, it turns out he’s now in the hands of the worst kidnapping group in Iraq. The same gang responsible for killing the Italian journalist and Red Cross aid worker Enzo Baldoni last Thursday.

They have given France an ultimatum: to reverse their recent ruling on conspicuous religious symbols, which resulted in the banning of the hijab in schools, within 48 hours. 24 hours have passed since the ultimatum.

I find my holiday time here is spent thinking about Georges and the good times we spent together in Iraq.

It also makes me think about the eight months I was there filming. Sitting around looking at the other faces round the table, thinking … Who? When? If? What? … and how I would respond if it ever came about. And that complete nightmare is upon me now.

Georges told me about how he had rediscovered a childhood sweetheart he had not seen for 20 years – how they had got together again and planned to marry. And that this was to be his last trip to Iraq before he planned to adjust his work so that it didn’t involve any more warzones; so that he could settle back down in his hometown in France.

The whole thing I suppose ultimately makes me feel sick in my stomach and brings home the danger that Georges was always rejecting, putting to one side, in pursuit of good journalism, a conviction for what he was driven to do. He never had a driver, a bodyguard, a fixer, security, anything – he was always out there, like most freelancers, getting close to the stories. And close to the people.

Since being back in England people are constantly asking me “What is the risk?” “How close were you to danger?” And it’s only on occasions like this (as Samir was always telling me) – “The danger is around you all the time – you just don’t want to realise it.”

Having never said a prayer since leaving school, I will say one for Georges tonight. I think that in times of despair we turn to some greater power to intervene. I don’t know what more to say.