U.S. Says Won't Bow to Demand of Kidnappers in Iraq
Wext: Thursday, 23.September. @ 00:00:00 CEST
22. Sep. 2004, BAGHDAD ( Reuters ) - With time running out to save a British hostage in Iraq, U.S. officials said on Wednesday they were not about to free female Iraqi prisoners as demanded by an al Qaeda ally whose group has already beheaded two Americans.
The Iraqi government said judges had ruled that a weapons scientist -- one of only two women Washington says it holds -- should be given a conditional release, but only in a few days.
It was unclear whether Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's demand for all women to be freed even referred to this pair at all -- both scientists, they worked for Saddam Hussein (news - web sites)'s secular government.
The Jordanian Islamist's Tawhid and Jihad group, responsible for some of the bloodiest violence in Iraq, says it killed American building contractors Jack Hensley and Eugene Armstrong after its demand was not met. It says their British colleague Kenneth Bigley, 62, will be next to die but has set no deadline.
Footage of the beheading of Armstrong, 52, was posted on the Internet on Monday. An Internet statement on Tuesday said Hensley, who would have turned 49 on Wednesday, had now also been killed. The U.S. embassy said it now had his headless body.
The Iraqi Justice Ministry said one of the two women in U.S. custody in Iraq, Rihab Taha, could be freed later in the day.
But the U.S. embassy said later that the two women, Taha and Huda Ammash, dubbed "Dr Germ" and "Mrs Anthrax" by U.S. forces, would not be released soon. "The two women are in legal and physical custody of the multinational forces in Iraq and neither will be released imminently," a spokesman said.
He said that although legal custody of Saddam Hussein and 11 of his top aides has been transferred to Iraqi authorities, the other 84 "high-value detainees" held by U.S. forces, including the two women, remained in U.S. legal custody.
"DR GERM" TO WALK
Kassim Daoud, the Iraqi government's national security adviser, later said Taha was one of three detainees who may be given conditional release later in the month.
"Iraqi judges decided to release them because they didn't have any evidence. The judges decided on a conditional release. It will not happen today, tomorrow or the day after tomorrow," he told a news conference. He said the move was unrelated to the demands of the kidnappers.
"We have sympathy for the British hostage and his family and the British people but I am afraid we have to stand firmly and reject any negotiations with the terrorists," Daoud said.
In its Internet statement on Tuesday, Zarqawi's group said that unless its demands were met, Bigley would be killed.
"Lions of the Tawhid and Jihad have slaughtered the second American hostage after the deadline," the statement said, adding that footage of the killing would be posted on the Internet.
"The British hostage will meet the same fate if the British government does not do what must be done to release him."
The statement was posted 24 hours after Hensley's compatriot Eugene Armstrong was killed, his head sawn off by a black-clad, hooded militant using a long knife. The CIA says it believes Zarqawi was probably the one wielding the blade.
The three were seized from their Baghdad home on Thursday.
In the latest in a wave of car bomb attacks in the capital this month, a suicide bomber detonated his vehicle in a crowded commercial street as dozens of men wanting to join the country's security forces queued up to photocopy their documents. Would-be recruits have been repeatedly targeted by insurgents.
Officials at Baghdad's Yarmuk hospital said 11 people were killed. At the scene, scores of sandals and shoes lay in pools of blood on the pavement. Iraqis covered burned flesh lying on the ground with store banners torn down by the explosion. A nearby ice cream stall was destroyed in the blast.
Dazed survivors were shocked the area was targeted.
"They just bombed people eating ice cream," said Humam Abdul-Hadi, owner of a nearby shop. Shrapnel wounds peppered his face and neck and his T-shirt was stained with blood.
Another suicide car bomber targeted a U.S. checkpoint in Baghdad, witnesses said. Police said three people were wounded.
The U.S. military says Zarqawi is its top foe in Iraq and has offered $25 million for information leading to his death or capture. His group has claimed responsibility for many of the bloodiest suicide attacks in Iraq since the fall of Saddam.
But it has released some hostages including a Filipino truck driver freed after Manila withdrew its troops from Iraq.
A Canadian woman was freed after two weeks in captivity, Ottawa said on Wednesday. She had not been reported missing.
Bigley's family has urged Blair to have the two scientists freed. But Zarqawi's group has made no clear reference to them.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Bush and Iraq's interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi, have repeatedly said they will not negotiate with hostage-takers.
In fighting overnight, U.S. tanks raided the Baghdad Shi'ite Muslim stronghold of Sadr City. Hospital sources said 22 people were killed and 71 wounded.
A roadside bomb attack near Saddam's hometown of Tikrit on Wednesday killed one U.S. soldier, the military said. Another soldier died of wounds sustained near Mosul, taking the U.S. military death toll since the start of the war to 789.
Near Samarra, a stronghold of the Sunni Muslim insurgency north of Baghdad, clashes between U.S. forces and insurgents left two Iraqis dead, and another two were killed when an American aircraft bombed a house in the area, police said.