Clock ticks down on Iraqi kidnappers' threat to kill hostages

Wext: Monday, 20.September. @ 00:00:00 CEST

Mijar:

AFP

BAGHDAD, Sept 19 (AFP) -
18h06 - Iraq's hostage crisis spiralled out of control Sunday while Britain and Iraq faced down a chilling ultimatum to execute a Briton and two Americans, as Islamists claimed the gruesome beheading of three Kurds.

Loyalists of Iraq's most wanted man, suspected Al-Qaeda operative Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, have purportedly served London and Washington with a 48-hour deadline to release Iraqi women from two prisons or the hostages will be executed.

More than 400 Iraqis have been killed this month alone in an explosion of violence that the interim government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and US-led forces appear powerless to control four months before scheduled general elections.

As Allawi was locked in security talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London, at least three people were killed and two wounded after US marines again opened fire in the lawless insurgency bastion of Fallujah, medics said.

Their meeting came half-way through the expected expiry of the hostage deadline.

"Our governments are working closely on it," Blair told a press conference.

The Iraqi leader added: "We are trying our best working on the issue of hostages and hopefully we will achieve some good results."

Blair called on the world to forget disagreements on the war and unite behind the terror engulfing an Iraq awash with suicide bombings, calling the conflict "the crucible in which the future of this global terrorism will be determined".

"Either it will succeed and this terrorism will grow, or we will succeed, the Iraqi people will succeed and this global terrorism will be delivered a huge defeat," he said.

Allawi pledged his government would stick to the timetable of holding elections next January despite the rocketing bloodshed and called on the United Nations to help make them a success.

"We are definitely going to stick to the timetable of the elections in January next year," Allawi said. "I call upon the United Nations to help us in providing whatever it takes in making the elections a success in Iraq."

In a videotape broadcast by Al-Jazeera early Saturday, Zarqawi militants said their American and British captives would be executed within 48 hours unless their governments bowed to their demands.

Americans Jack Hensley and Eugene "Jack" Armstrong and British engineer Kenneth Bigley were abducted by gunmen from their smart Baghdad home on Thursday.

The US military has said only two Iraqi women, both of them high-security detainees believed to have been instrumental in ousted dictator Saddam Hussein's weapons programmes, were being held in the country.

Hensley's wife Patty made a somber plea for mercy and the trio's release in a prepared statement addressed to the kidnappers and broadcast on CNN television.

"He is one of the kindest, gentlest people who wanted to help and the last person in the world that I would have expected this to happen to... He's there to help the Iraqi people."

But Jordanian civil servant Alaa Thabet Lazim, who had been held hostage in Iraq for a month, was freed near this southern town in an Iraqi security force raid.

The 35-year-old Jordanian said he had been snatched in August after trying to visit relatives and accused his captors of maltreating him.

Separately, Al-Qaeda linked killers claimed to have executed three Kurds taken hostage in Taji, north of Baghdad, in a statement posted on an Islamist website.

The trio were "soldiers with the traitor Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)" from the town of Zakho on the Turkish-border. Their bodies were dumped on the side of a road, said the statement signed by the military wing of the Army of Ansar al-Sunna.

The authenticity of the statement could not be confirmed.

"Divine justice was applied on the three men, whose throats were slit," it said.

In a poor-quality video on the website, the three young men were seen making brief comments, apparently identifying themselves, before their throats were slit and the heads placed on top of their bodies.

Three heads and decapitated bodies, thought to be of Iraqi civilians, were discovered on a roadside near Ad-Dujail, between Baghdad and Balad last Wednesday.

The same group group last month killed 12 Nepalese workers in Iraq, and posted the grisly video footage of their execution on an Internet site.

Police in the northern city of Kirkuk said they had managed to bust a kidnapping ring for the first time that snatched hostages for ransom and political demands, arresting 38 people, mostly Kurds and Turkmen, said police.

Officers also said about a dozen Turkish truck drivers had been either killed or abducted in Sunni strongholds north of Baghdad over the past 24 hours. Three Lebanese and their Iraqi driver have also been reported missing.

In smouldering violence, an Iraqi soldier and civilian were killed when a suicide bomber blew up a car alongside a joint US patrol near Samarra, the US military said. Three US and three Iraqi soldiers were also wounded.

A child was killed in the Shiite Muslim city of Hilla, south of Baghdad, when a car bomb exploded, also wounding three adults, police said.









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