Wide Angle

When Theodore Roosevelt told Moulay Abdelaziz «Perdicaris Alive or Raisuni Dead !»

Kidnapped by Mulai Ahmed Raisuni’s bandits, Greek American businessman Ion Perdicaris was impressed by the Jbala leader’s ethics, courage and bravery. After a crisis that involved Theodore Roosevelt and Moulay Abdelaziz, Perdicaris admitted that he enjoyed Raisuni’s company.

Mulai Ahmed Raisuni who kidnapped an American citizen in Tangier and asked for ransom./Ph. DR
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In 1904, Tangier was home to the famous Perdicaris incident, when Jbala leader Mulai Ahmed Raisuni plotted the abduction of a Greek American expatriate. The latter was a rich businessman who had moved to Morocco with his British wife and his stepson. Targeting the Perdicaris’ villa in Tangier, Raisuni’s bandits kidnapped the two men and left several servants injured behind.

The most exciting thing about this story is that it escalated quickly gaining so much notoriety. Indeed, the operation was like no other as it involved three big names : Theodore Roosevelt, Moulay Abdelaziz and Raisuni.

Raiding the Palace of Nightingales

On the 18th of May of the same year, Raisuni’s bandits raided the Palace of the Nightingales, a mansion Ion Perdicaris built in the outskirts of Tangier which was home to «a menagerie of dogs, monkeys and cranes». 64-year-old Ion and his stepson, Cromwell Varley, were peacefully having an early dinner in their terrace when they were interrupted by the screams of their servants. «As they ran to the scene of the commotion a gang of Berbers brazenly grabbed them, clubbed them with gun stocks and bound their arms», write Capital Century narrating the story.

Ion Perdicaris, the Greek-American national kidnapped er Raisuni./Ph. DRIon Perdicaris, the Greek-American national kidnapped er Raisuni./Ph. DR

Perdicaris and Varley were then forced to climb horses and go on a long ride with Raisuni’s men leaving behind Ellen, the mother and wife. Taken hostage by the band, the two expats finally had the chance to meet the man who ordered their kidnapping. It was no one but Mulai Ahmed, the man who was given so many attributes (pirate, Robin Hood, rebel or gangster) based on how people saw him.

Although the Perdicaris had no idea why they were abducted, Raisuni knew that this operation would be a sudden blow for his rival, Sultan Abdelaziz.

A 70,000 dollar ransom

«Raisuli issued the hated ruler a list of exorbitant demands for the hostages' release: $70,000 in gold, safe-conduct for all his tribesmen and, most outrageous of all, recognition as the sultan's bashaw, or governor, over two districts around Tangier».

And that is how, the Jbala leader decided to show the world that the Sultan was incapable of assuring the security of foreign citizens in his kingdom. Quickly, the news spread around the world, and nearly every powerful nation out there knew about the Perdicaris’ kidnapping.

As strange as it may sound, the Greek American hostage did not react in the way he was expected to. He actually understood er Raisouni’s motives and had even appreciated his bravery and courage. Some historical accounts have even suggested that Ion Perdicaris became friends with the Moroccan leader.

Befriending his kidnapper

«I go so far as to say that I do not regret having been his prisoner for some time», wrote Perdicaris later. «He is not a bandit, not a murderer, but a patriot forced into acts of brigandage to save his native soil and his people from the yoke of tyranny», he said describing the man who kidnapped him.

However, things were not seen the same way by the United States of America which had interpreted the event as a threat. And as an American citizen, Ion Perdicaris was fiercely defended by his nation. Running at the time for presidency, Theodore Roosevelt reacted to the incident with great interest.

«Perdicaris Alive or Raisuli Dead !»

He ordered his Secretary of State John Hay to urgently act on the situation. Reportedly, the US Consul General in Tangier Samuel R. Gummere was galvanized. According to the same source, «seven battleships from the Atlantic fleet were dispatched to the Moroccan coast», following the orders of President Roosevelt.

The latter was ready to do everything to save the American citizen who in fact had forfeited his American passport for a Greek one forty years earlier. Despite that, Roosevelt has seen in this situation a good opportunity that would serve his presidential campaign and famously said : «Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead!»

Roosevelt pressured Sultan Abdelaziz to pay the ransom. On the 21st of June, the Sultan agreed to give Raisuni what he was asking for. A few days later, Raisuni received his 70,000 dollars and was named Pasha of Tangier. The Perdicaris were freed safe and sound while Roosevelt won easily a second term in the November elections.

However, in the USA no one knew that Perdicaris was not American, the story was kept a secret in order not to affect the president’s image. In his memoirs, US State Secretary wrote, «it is a bad business. We must keep it excessively confidential.»

In the Kingdom of Morocco, meanwhile, Raisuni was taking control of two of Tangier’s wealthiest districts but his activities were not limited to that. Years later, he did it again and kidnapped another foreign citizen. This time it was Sir Harry known as «Caid» Maclean, a British army officer serving as a military aide to the Sultan's army. Raisuni asked for a £20,000 ransom from the British government.

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