The Last Voice: The Ham who made the world a witness
OM Balasubramanian, VU2UYC, who sent me a copy of the Arab Times, Gail Seery -writer of the article:"The last voice: The Ham who made the world a witness"
ARAB TIMES/SPECIAL SECTION.February 26, 1997 Issue
Abdul Jabbar Al Marafie is a most reluctant hero, and has received little acclaim for his work from within Kuwait. That doesn't bother him particularly. He feels the most important thing is to know that he did all he could to help as many people as he could from a wide number of different nationalities and backgrounds. That he continually risked his own life in order to do so, seems virtually irrelevant to him. "I don't like to be called a hero," he says, adding that he only did what he felt he had to do. From the basement of his house in Salwa, just a stone's throw from the Iraqi occupied police-station, and close to two Iraqi occupied schools, he kept up his transmissions from day one until liberation and after. Initially the traffic was purely health and welfare that is, connected with the we11 being of those inside, and outside Kuwait, but at the request of one of his network. Frank Moore of Wane-TV, Indiana, he broadened his scope to include descriptions of day-to-day life under the Iraqi regime. It was Marafie who broke the news of the premature babies who were removed from the incubators, and who brought vivid accounts of the tortures and atrocities to the waiting world. Moore passed the reports he received in two directions to the State Department, and to the press and broadcast media.
Ironically, in America, Marafies deeds have been well-publicised. Moore produced a television documentary about Marafie called "The Last Voice from Kuwait"' which has been shown extensively, across the US, and which may possibly be shown in Kuwait at some point in the future. He has featured in specialist magazine articles, and Moore con- fides that there are even plans to make a motion picture of the story.
According to Frank Moore, who along with other members of the loop recently visited Kuwait at the invitation of the Kuwaiti government, Marafie personally helped "shape US public opinion, and gained government sympathy. Abdul Jabbar explained very, very accurately about the atrocities, brutalities, assassinations, murders, rapes, and about the people who were taken hostages to Iraq,' said Moore. As his contacts outside, and particularly those in America, were attaching more and more importance to his life reports, Abdul Jabbar felt that the health and welfare messages were the most important traffic through his ham radio station. "I was helping people,' he explained, adding that although it may have been useful for those outside to know what was happening in Kuwait, essentially, it made no difference to the actual suffering of the people trapped in the country at the time. Again and again he reiterated that it was the health and welfare messages which kept him going. "I couldn't let people down,' he said.
The system which formed itself around his messages was enormous, and remarkably effective considering that it was put together largely by accident. Abdul Jabbar was sending messages to Frank Moore in Indiana, Piet in the Netherlands, Lars Berglund and Adel Marafie in Sweden, 2 separate stations in Switzerland manned by Ahmed AI Jassim and Adnan AI Kazemi and Max, John Troost in Guatemala, Hajji Nasir in Pakistan, Izzat Ramadan in Egypt, Clark Constant and Bob Foster in US, Roland in Germany, Tom in Lebanon, the Kuwait Embassy in London, and even the USS John F. Kennedy, stationed in the Red Sea for the duration of the crisis.
Having so many different connections meant that Marafie had considerably more chance of making contact when conditions were favourable to himself. The outsiders would then channel the information to the correct objectives. Scott Ward, chief radio operator aboard the USS John F. Kennedy, would relay the information to the various members of the link in the States, the Marafie house in Sweden would pass on health and welfare messages, and also would send reports direct to the Amir and government in Taif. Others, notably lzzat Ramadan and Hajji Nasir would act as collecting points for telephone queries from those outside the coun- try" They would then feed these to Abdul for an answer.
That mean that a lot of Abdul Jabbar's time was taken in simply trying to find the answers to the queries which were coming in. First he would try the telephone, but as the occupation wore on, people were changing their locations. Where possible he would go by car, and towards the end, even by bicycle to deliver messages and find answers.
Narjilis Qabazard became one of his helpers at this
time. She had been visiting him at his house, and resolved to get involved. "When I
saw he was so busy that he had no time to eat, I asked, 'Can I help?' He was happy to have
The work Narjilis Qabazard did was frequently dangerous. "God was with me, so I was able to help people." Narjilis would take the incoming messages and prepare the answers -usually around 50 messages a day, and almost every day. "It was too much for him to manage alone. I would telephone the families." Later they knew that all calls were being monitored by the Iraqis. Some people who had left the country, or who were staying elsewhere, had left the keys of their house with her, "I would go to those houses, and spend about thirty minutes telephoning from each house.' When that didn't work, and when the lines were down, she would go to find the people's houses by car, and when there was no petrol, she would go by bicycle.
"What Abdul Jabbar was doing was very, very dangerous, we were afraid for him. He was very close to where the Iraqis were.' The Iraqis did in fact pay Narjilis and her family a visit. They were looking for something to do with telephones, but whatever it was they were looking for, they didn't find it and so they left,
"The families we helped were very happy, and thanked us. Until now they remembered us. Abdul Jabbar is a very special man, and his family helped him a great deal some- times when I made the calls people didn't believe that it was real, but I always managed to convince them by telling them my name, my telephone number and where I lived.'
Like almost everyone else involved, Narjilis Qabazard is amazed that they managed to keep up the transmissions for so long at such a dangerous time. "God helped us," she said. "I was lucky," agrees Marafie. "If Narjilis got caught at a checkpoint with the list, it would have been the end for her and the end for us, and for all the families involved."
Abdul Jabbar would go to his cousin's diwaniyah for news, and his cousin Abdul Azzem Marafie helped in editing the news. In addition Abdul Jabbar would go out for about an hour as often as he could in order to see what was happening. He smiles at the memory of climbing his antenna tower during bombardments in an effort to see which locations had been hit. Clearly, his clandestine operations involved a great deal of hard work. "It was a relief when the phone lines were cut, just before the ground war. I was sorry not to be able to continue to help people, but it was a rest for me. For us the messages could be a big headache."
"We were dealing with around 150 messages a day, then when the lines went down it decreased. Sometimes I was at my work station from 8am till 10 at night, depending on the situation. Our help was there for whoever was in trouble in Kuwait. Hearts were breaking," says Marafie. "There are hundreds of stories, some with happy outcomes, some tragic. My group and I brought some kind of relief to all the people by letting them know about their relatives and their homes. I am glad for that.
Mahmoud Al Wathiqi, a Kuwaiti who spent much of the occupation period in America told the "Last Voice from Kuwait" team that Marafie thought little of "risking his life to bring us these few words of comfort from Kuwait. We very much appreciate what he was doing. He is a real hero." Not only Kuwaiti families turned to Abdul Jabbar Marafie for help. He was also approached by other nationalities, and through his link Roland, in Germany, came into con- tact with a group of German nationals who were stranded here. One contact was Mr Dobner of the Siemens company. "From the time when the lines were cut, around August 5th or 6th, we had no contact with our relatives, and our parents in Germany. Between the 5th and lOth August we got a telephone call from Abdul. Step by step we built a radio link between Kuwait and Germany. Other companies involved were Mercedes Benz and Lufthansa. Abdul was our only link with the outside world apart from the embassy. We had a chance if someone was trying to escape, otherwise there was no-one else."
Marafie set up a system where the families in Germany
could listen in on the correct frequency at the correct time. There were two groups from
Siemens as well as a number of people from other companies. "We had arranged with
Abdul that we would call at a certain time each day. If we did not do so, then he would
know that we were taken and would send out a ready prepared message to Germany,"
This did in fact happen in mid-September; the news was in Germany, and Bonn had made a formal protest to the Iraqi government even before the Iraqi government knew that the arrest had been made. "We were already sure that the Iraqis would catch us; that was 100 per cent clear to us." Even this help, at great potential cost to himself, was not enough for Abdul Jabbar. He also offered food to the group and was supplying them with bread, milk and other products; his help was of practical as well as of psychological value. Of course, it was his practical mastery of ham radio that enabled the messages to be sent out at all. Abdul Jabbar is retired, after having worked at the Ministry of Communications for twenty-five years. He has held an amateur radio licence for many years, but only began to work in earnest in 1982. Basically there are three kinds of transmission being made by amateurs. The first in SSB (Single Side Band), which is the verbal contact which most people think of when, they hear the words ham radio. The second is CW, which uses morse code, and the third is the far more technologically advanced AMTOR (Amateur Tele-printing Over Radio). Contact is via computer; instead of a modem attached to a telephone line, the data is transmitted via modem and radio antenna. This is, a very accurate means of exchanging messages. APLINK is a system which works within an AMTOR environment which allows messages to be relayed in bulk -but Marafie says that accuracy is impeded in this mode, and most of his transmissions during the occupation were in AMTOR which transmits character by character.
Every radio ham must be licensed, and will have his own call sign, the first character(s) of which will identify his country of origin. Thus the first character of a British call sign will be G, W signifies USA and F identifies France. 9K is Kuwait, and Y1 is Iraq. Marafie's call sign is 9K2DZ but for security during part of the invasion he was using his friend's call sign which has a Bahrain identifier.
The key to performance for the amateur radio station is the antenna. The better the antenna, the better the reception and the better the quality of the transmission.
There can be little doubt that amateur radio has taken over Marafie's life. "It takes the bulk of my spare time. I am always working to find out about new equipment and new technology. Normally we would exchange call signs alone, then gradually we would come to talk to the same person regularly, just to say hello." Thus friendships were formed, and many of the people who were subsequently to become part of the loop had been in contact with each other for years.
Abdul wants to stress that in no way was he the only Kuwaiti radio amateur operating during the invasion. "I cannot say what the others did. I know that many were using SSB, and my friend Muhsen AI Ajeel was also using Amtor. However, circumstances were different for them and for me."
He feels that it is wrong to band words like hero. An SSB transmission lasting two minutes, might have been a hundred times more dangerous than a series of messages over a two week period. It is simply, he says, impossible to say. Certainly many of those receiving his messages as time went by were Kuwaiti radio amateurs, and others were active from within Kuwait.
"My circumstances made it possible for me to carry on. I was able to stay in my house, and wanted to do so because I had family all around me. If I had been forced to move it would have been impossible to continue without the antenna. Some were forced to move away from their homes, and could not continue. I think that everybody did what they could," he says, adding that as far as he is concerned he feels that the whole of the Kuwait Amateur Radio Society has reason to be proud.
Muhsen Al Ajeel added, "behind every man there is a woman. All our antennas were like saying to the Iraqis, 'please, please come and get me.' I had a lot of support from my wife; one hand does not clap. Every Kuwaiti did what he could against the Iraqis, from small children to wives, to old ladies. My mother cannot write and read, but every time the Iraqis came it was she who faced them."
Abdul Jabbar is clearly embarrassed by the compliments of the network who assisted him outside Kuwait, and is determined to play down any suggestion either that he was a hero, or that he was operating alone. However, those who were outside have a different perspective.
"He was the man who got the message out of Kuwait, to every country, to the State Department, and to Desert Storm Intelligence,' says Moore. "Each of us was working separately as an individual, but we all meshed as a team, each with our own job."
"The vote in Congress was not overwhelmingly in favour of military action to liberate Kuwait. Certainly many people were against it. We can't tell how much the reports did to strengthen, resolve, or to put pressure on Congress, but I am confident that they had their effect. Although apparently other Kuwaiti radio hams were active, none of their news reached the State Department, which has admitted that it was extremely important for it to have a sense of what was going on in Kuwait. Many people would read the reports and burst into tears."
"Abdul's reports were on Network TV, and coast
to coast CBS, talking of fire, theft and death and hunger."
Moore's first contact with Abdul Jabbar was in the form of a series of messages to be passed on, from various people saying, we are alive and well, pray for us. "It was happenstance it was me rather than another ham. I contacted the State Department who assigned two people for me to pass the messages on to."
"There were plenty of non-believers in the beginning, but when they checked it out they found that the information was good. If I had any doubts about him, they were gone the first time I picked up the phone to pass on one of his messages." The people at the end of the telephone line had most convincing proof of the veracity of the messages.
"I told him to get off the air right from the start, but it was obvious he wasn't going to. I admire his patriotism, his sense of humanity to man."
"When that first message came in I couldn't believe it, it blew my mind. I was awestruck. I knew who Abdul was, as all the call signs are in the Aplink directory."
After the beginning of September the messages came, not via the Netherlands as previously, but through Scott Ward on board the USS John F. Kennedy. Clark Constant would handle the personal messages, and Moore dealt with the life reports.
All Moore's media sources were carefully briefed to avoid endangering Abdul Jabbar. They realised that a careless statement could lead to not only the loss of Abjul Jabbar's life, but also the lives of all other amateur radio enthusiasts in Kuwait. Charles Kuralt of CBS news came up with he expression "smuggled out of Kuwait," which obfuscated the origin of the reports. Even so there were two breaches of security, once in the States when another radio amateur picked up the messages and passed them to the press without examining the implications of what he was doing, and once in a similar incident in Australia. On both occasions the offending ham was reached and counselled to silence before any real harm was done.
Scott Ward left for the Red Sea aboard USS John F. Kennedy on August 3rd, as part of the military build-up in the area. He had already set up a ham radio link aboard ship for the use of the members of the American Forces on board, and he was briefed to expect messages from Abdul Jabbar.
"My first reaction when the messages came in was to get the information to the States as quickly as I could. I provided an easy link because I was right there in the area. At first the messages were health and welfare and then came the live reports. The more I read in detail the more clear it was that this was becoming an information tool for the military. There was no other information coming directly out of Kuwait for military purpose that I knew of," recalls Ward.
It was Ward who handled the traffic concerning the German group in Kuwait. The advantage was that, as he was stationed comparatively nearby, it was easier for him to pick up clear signals, and Marafie only had to take the risk once, instead of once for every link in the chain.
Ward was in the region the whole time, but for security reasons went off the air when the bombing started on January l6th. After that he continued to receive information, but couldn't acknowledge it.
"I felt that it was totally ridiculous that Iraq was getting away with its atrocities. I could see from the messages that they had totally dismantled the country from the bottom up. Something had to be done, I felt a responsibility to do something, not just from the military standpoint but also from a humanitarian point of view. I was also responsible for giving Abdul support, for helping him to keep going."
"All of us told him to quit before he got himself killed, but he wouldn't. I was surprised he kept it up, because we knew that the Iraqis had the equipment they needed to find him. I was impressed at the way he kept going even though he knew that."
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John Troost in Guatemala had known Abdul Jabbar
Marafie and Muhsen AI Ajeel for years. Of Dutch origin, he has lived in Latin America for
30 years, 16 of which has been in Guatemala. Although he works primarily on Amtor type
equipment, when the occupation started he made contact on SSB. "Then Muhsen and I
kept going on Amtor. We passed long bulletins, for special forwarding to US, which we did
part of the time through Frank and Bob."
"There were times when we worried that Abdul was being controlled. We would ask him personal questions, and had he answered incorrectly we would have known that there was some problem. He had to change his call sign for security reasons, and he did not use his Kuwaiti one for 6 months. One evening in January, he called me and gave me a long report about the atrocities and the displacement of troops. Then he typed, 'over .stand by ...be right back ...shooting ...the Americans came to help us!' Then he changed back to his old call sign."
"What happened was unbelievable," says Troost. "I have known him so many years, and though he was not the type to take chances; here he took the greatest chances I could think of. Abdul turned out to be a true hero of modern times -and there aren't many heroes now-a-days."
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Moore recalls his own fears in this regard. When
Abdul's cousin Abdul Azeem started helping with the reports the style changed
considerably. "We got scared," says Moore "We had been working with Abdul
for some time and we could see he didn't write the new reports. So we would ask special
questions; if he had answered wrongly we would know he was compromised. If he had accepted
the inaccuracies, we would have known that he was in trouble." This concern was
mutual however. Adel Marafie, who manned a ham radio station in Sweden adds, "and
Abdul would check us also."
Lars Berglund is a Swedish radio amateur who lives close to the Marafie family's summer home. "I got a call asking me if I could assist a Kuwaiti radio amateur to set up a station locally. This was a few days after the war started and all connections had been broken."
Berglund helped Adel, Murtada, Abdul Ila and Hussein Marafie to build up the system, and let them use his call- sign. "This meant that depending on conditions and the time, Abdul Jabbar could choose where to go with his messages. It was a matter of international friendship over ham radio. That friendship is free and costs nothing. I felt it was a very special situation for the family, and that I must do all I could to assist them in getting a communications link with Kuwait, explain Berglund.
We were together several times every week at the beginning, but later on the operators at the Marafie house were able to manage by themselves. The most important as- pect of what we did was that we made sure that all that happened inside Kuwait was known to the world."
Adel Marafie adds, "We used Lars's call sign so that no one would know we were Kuwaitis. We were four family members working together. Two would be receiving the messages, one would be faxing them on, and one would be dealing direct with the Kuwait government. That meant that it took four of us to deal with the signals from just one man."
Adel Marafie recalled the code-names they had used when dealing with the Kuwait government. "Hussein was called Don Pedro, and we referred to members of the government according to which day they used to hold their diwaniyah." In turn there were references to "the morning" when referring to members of the AI Sabah family.
Izzat Ramadan was the Egyptian link. He collected messages and queries from all over the world, as his number was handed out far and wide as a man who had contact with those inside Kuwait. " Abdul Jabbar could have gone out of Kuwait but refused. We sent him messages asking, but he replied, I will never leave Kuwait. I will stay here forever. I will not move till Kuwait is free again."
I have known him for ten years, and during the occupation he helped many Egyptian families, as well as Indians, Pakistanis, Americans, Canadians, Germans and other nationalities. He is an ordinary man, working for all people." Izzat would relay messages to Ahmed Al Kassem in Switzerland, Mohammed Al Qatarni in London, and Adnan Al Kazemi who was also in Switzerland. They would leave messages in his computer mailbox to be relayed to Abdul.
"We were just on the band to help people," he says simply, adding that Abdul had sent him to his house in Egypt and told him to help himself to the equipment he needed and that Adnan Al Kazemi had helped him by replacing his computer when it broke down.
Max and Adnan Al Kazemi operated together from Switzerland. Kazemi explains, "messages for Abdul were coming from the whole world, from America, Australia, and the Far East. What a brave man we have here in Kuwait, who worked in such conditions while terrible things happened in this country."
"I could give you a thousand stories, of the people we helped," continues Kazemi. "Many, but not all of those were Kuwaitis." Max had helped him to set up, and had assisted him in obtaining a licence to operate.
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It was clear that all the members of the link who
were outside Kuwait were worried that his determination to keep transmitting would lead
the Iraqis to Abdul Jabbar. In fact there were frequent alarms both in Kuwait and outside.
An Iraqi radio ham checked into the USS John F. Kennedy computer forcing Ward to shut down
for three days.
Izzat Ramadan recalls getting a personal message from the Amir, telling him to ask Abdul to cease transmitting, because it had been learned that the Iraqis had brought in equipment to locate the source of his signals. "He said no, I can't stop because many people are asking my help, and I must give it to them." Izzat had tried telling him that even if Abdul would not close, he would, and that he would tell all the others not to receive from Abdul, so that there would be nobody on the band." And even then he kept on calling."
"The Iraqis were right across the street. They could see his antenna every day. I don't think I would have done it," says Moore.
Abdul Jabbar has eight children, four girls and four boys, aged between 26 and 9 years old. Not surprisingly they were often afraid of the risks that were being taken.
"Sometimes I wouldn't tell the family what I was doing. After I had finished transmitting I would hide the radio near the garbage, and bring it back inside in the morning. I could connect and disconnect within two minutes."
That was just as well, because the Iraqis could and did come, and on more than one occasion. Abdul Jabbar's wife was running a private clothing store from another part of the basement, and the large numbers of ladies visiting the house attracted suspicion from the Iraqis. The family simply told them that it was a family gathering, and they would go away satisfied.
They came looking for his equipment later. They were looking for him by name, which they had presumably obtained from records of those with amateur radio licences. Abdul Jabbar heard that two plain clothes policemen had gone to the wrong house and decided to preempt them. He went to the police station to ask who was looking for him, left a message, and went home to find them waiting.
Abdul is certain that going to the police station was a good step to have taken, as it convinced the two Iraqis that he was happy to cooperate with them. "They told me they had come for my equipment. I said they were welcome, but that the main equipment had been stored in the Radio Society premises and was probably gone by now. They asked what I had in the house, and I told them I had two sets stored since the invasion, because I thought it might be illegal to transmit. They wanted to check, saw the rigs, and took them. They were working sets, but were old. I would like to have kept them for my collection, but they're gone now."
They had also asked Abdul Jabbar for his help in locating the other radio enthusiasts on the list, and he had replied that as far as he knew they were all outside the country He named those he knew of, and told them to be ready, or else to hide.
Of course, Marafie's real equipment was well hidden, and he had been using a portable rig for ease of movement. "I was really frightened, and I knew that my daughters were praying inside the house. It was a dangerous moment and I was very lucky ."
They looked for him and the other radio enthusiasts on many occasions, but he was not taken. "Of course I was afraid, I knew I was doing something that they really didn't like.
The radio itself was not only a source of comfort, but on occasion, of fear. The first time was right at the beginning of the invasion. I was sending news of the Iraqi looting to Max in Switzerland, when someone interrupted, saying that all I was sending was lies and that they would tell the Iraqi authorities," recalls Marafie.
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"I called the children to help take everything
out. I told my son to take care of the computer, to try to take a back up. He couldn't do
it: so I told him to wipe everything, destroying the first four days of messages. Whoever
came on the line was operating without a call sign and was a professional."
"I thought they would come. I waited, but nobody came. The second time, someone came on the line, again with no call sign, " All traffic received on this frequency will be sent to Iraqi officials. Be careful what you write". To this day Abdul Jabbar is unsure whether that message was a threat, a warning or a hoax. Abdul Jabbar is grateful to the authorities worldwide who allowed his colleagues to continue broadcasting even though, essentially the messages were breaking all the rules of amateur radio.
"It is forbidden for anyone to work on Amtor bands if they are not licensed. The rules state that we must work on specific bands, allocated for this purpose to enable us to exchange technical information regarding radio and wireless. We are not allowed to send messages relating to politics, news, or third party messages. Only if there is a friendship can general information be exchanged," explains Marafie. "It was very kind of all the governments concerned to allow the hams to pass third party messages for the sake of the Kuwaiti people. I thank them, and we all appreciate their support very much."
"It was truly a multi-national Aplink effort in the best traditions of amateur radio," says Max. John Troost relayed 4000 two-way messages from September to January 1991. (c) Sandeep Baruah
" All our friends were very good and cooperative and without their help I could have done nothing," says Abdul Jabbar. "I thank the people who helped with the messages and news from inside Kuwait as well as those outside who made sure the messages got to the right destination."
TOP NETWORK n
The story of Abdul Jabbar AI Marafie and his radio
network is too big to tell in all its detail. There are so many things he would rather not
recall, things which may now be sensitive or painful. Everyone involved allowed the
urgency of getting the messages to and from Kuwait take over their whole lives, and even
they, looking back find the whole tale incredible.
"Would we do it again?" asks John Troost. "Yes, we'd do it again". Many of those Abdul Jabbar was in contact with were surprised when they came to Kuwait and met him for the first time -he was such a quiet, ordinary man, not at all the sort of person they might have expected to be risking his life for others every day- " Abdul was one of the first people we visited when we returned in March to assist with the rebuilding of Kuwait," recalls Dobner. "He really risked his life, and that is more than we can ask from anybody. I was astounded when I saw him for the first time."
Even on Liberation Day itself it seemed that Abdul Jabbar did not consider he had done enough. He found himself helping the foreign journalists and film crews in Kuwait, not only with radio links to their publications, but also with accommodation and food. He gave three computers for their use, and when testing the link, via Sweden, was able to contact CNN and get a reply within minutes.
And still after everything, Abdul Jabbar remains modest. "I wanted to help those who were suffering, and it is good if my news gave some sort of push to Bush and Thatcher and the other leaders concerned. I did what I felt I had to do, that's all."
OM Balasubramanian, VU2UYC, who sent me a copy of the Arab Times, Gail Seery -writer of the article:"The last voice: The Ham who made the world a witness"
ARAB TIMES/SPECIAL SECTION.February 26, 1997 Issue