Milestone for once-kidnapped Iraqi amateur astronomer

Posted by Eric Betz
on Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Raad Abdul Aziz in 2004. Courtesy
Ten years ago, masked gunmen rushed the Baghdad offices of a humanitarian group working to rebuild schools, hospitals, and water treatment plants in Iraq. The men would kidnap Iraqi engineer and amateur astronomer Raad Abdul Aziz, along with two Italian aid workers and another Iraqi.

As we are now, Astronomy was headed to print on the December issue at the time, which contained an aptly titled story on the then 35-year-old Abdul Aziz called “Wartime astronomy.” It detailed the Iraqi’s efforts as a boy, and later as a man, to learn the night sky during trips to his family’s Baghdad rooftop between bombings of the Iran-Iraq and Gulf Wars. As the city turned out its lights to evade fighter jets, Abdul Aziz made observations in the precious dark.

Abdul Aziz and the other hostages were eventually released on September 28, 2004, and Astronomy ran the story as scheduled. Time magazine put the kidnapped Italian women on the cover of a special issue above the words “European Heroes.” The Iraqi engineer returned home under continued threat and was eventually forced to move his family to Europe. He later recounted his experience to The New York Times in “The Rebuilder’s Tale.

Astronomy was recently able to reach Abdul Aziz via email. He says he now lives and works in rural Switzerland, where he still enjoys the night sky and participates in local astronomy groups.

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