Mark Stroop [oo as in Roosevelt], who runs a car rental business in IJsselstein, isn't scared easily. When two of his cars were stolen and taken to Iraqi Kurdistan, he went to retrieve them himself. It turned into a bizarre journey that ended with a tough negotiation about the release of the thief of his cars.
They're there in the hall behind his house: the black Opel Cascada and a silver-grey Volkswagen Golf. Both convertibles. Maybe not the most interesting cars in Stroops inventory, but certainly the best story.
"I rented them to jihadis"
Because how bizarre was it late September, when Stroop saw the cars rented by a Sherzad and Mehmed, drive towards the Middle East through his built-in track & trace system. "Sometimes i watch where my cars are driving on my computer So i see those cars enter Turkey! While they had to be returned the next day. I immediately knew: here comes trouble. And they even headed towards Syria. I thought: My god, i rented them to jihadis."
There wasn't a lot Stroop could do. Formally the cars weren't stolen yet. At night Stroop saw the cars drive along the Syrian border towards Iraq. An attempt to stop them at the border through the Dutch embassy came to late. But: the track & trace system still worked. In the cities of Duhok and Sersink Stroop saw the long journey of his cars end. In Iraq.
But Stroop had a problem: rental cars that aren't returned are not insured. This would set back Stroops -otherwise stable- business Silverline €75.000, which he couldn't afford. "I had to get those cars back."
In his search for a good companion Stroop happened upon a 'mister Saman', a Kurdish Dutchman who works for the local police and is helping establish a police union according to Western standards in Iraqi Kurdistan. "He was willing to come along", says Stroop, who arranged for a car through an acquaintance of Saman when they arrived in the city of Arbil. "And that acquaintance casually threw a Kalashnikov on the back-seat", says Stroop. "He thought it was important, they had to bring it. That really made clear where we were."
Through Saman, Stroop quickly met one of the top police chiefs in northern Iraq. "They had never seen that before, a Dutchman who came to look for his stolen cars. Perhaps that's why they were willing to help." In the meantime however, the thieves had removed the track & trace system from the cars. They really needed the police to help them, but it took three whole days of Stroop collecting stamp after stamp: from the Iraqi minister of Internal Affairs to the court and from the local police to Interpol. All of Iraqi Kurdistan was looking for the convertibles from IJsselstein. On the way home Stroop received a telephone call: the cars and the thieves had been found.
Stroop was relieved, but the bureaucratic battle had yet to begin: a truckload of Iraqi authorities had to get translated and signed documents that proved Mark Stroop was the lawful owner of the convertibles they had tracked down. When Stroop, along with his friends Jos and Jolle, finally was allowed to retrieve his cars in Duhok in November, the scariest moment had yet to come.
Because suddenly a captain of the military police showed up: a full cousin of Sherzad, the 'brains' behind the operation. It quickly became clear what the captain wanted: he was free to take the cars, but would Stroop be willing to drop the charges against nephew Sherzad so he wouldn't have to spend years in jail?
"It turned out Sherzad would get a 15-year sentence. I explained to them i spent $10.000 to retrieve the cars. After a long negotiation they were willing to pay 7000. When i finally agreed to that, because i wanted to leave in one piece, the atmosphere changed completely and they even offered me lunch."
The journey home was 4500 km. Now they're back, in the hall in IJsselstein, between some much nicer cars. "After this adventure these really are my babies", Stroop jokes.