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Iraq, British won't give in to kidnappers
Updated: 2004-09-24 01:40

The British and Iraqi governments said Thursday they would not bow to the demands of militants threatening to kill a British hostage, despite a video message from the captive pleading for his life.

The kidnappers say they will behead Kenneth Bigley unless all Iraqi women are freed from U.S.-run jails.

Video grab image taken from an Islamist web site shows what appears to be British hostage Kenneth Bigley, September 22, 2004. Bigley, facing a death threat from Iraqi kidnappers, appealed to British Prime Minister Tony Blair for his life in a videotape released on Islamist Web sites on Wednesday. [Reuters]

After a day of confusion Wednesday over whether one of two Iraqi women in U.S. custody in Iraq would be freed, the interim Iraqi government said in a statement that Prime Minister Iyad Allawi was not willing to allow her release.

"The government renews its call on the terrorists to release Kenneth Bigley forthwith and without condition," it said.

In a speech to the U.S. Congress in Washington, Allawi reiterated his belief that Iraq's fledgling security forces would prevail against the insurgents, as well as the widespread violence which threatens elections scheduled for January.

"In Iraq, we confront both an insurgency and the global war on terror, with their destructive forces sometimes overlapping," he said. "I can tell you today they will not succeed."

Italy's government dismissed two Internet statements saying two female Italian aid workers kidnapped in Iraq had been killed, saying there was no evidence to confirm the claims.

The two were seized in broad daylight in Baghdad earlier this month. Last Thursday, Bigley and Americans Eugene Armstrong and Jack Hensley were also seized by gunmen in Baghdad.

The Tawhid and Jihad group led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi says it killed Armstrong and Hensley because the U.S. military rejected its demand to free all Iraqi women from U.S.-run prisons in Iraq.

Video footage showing the beheading of the two Americans has been posted on the Internet, and CIA officials say analysis of Armstrong's killing suggests Zarqawi himself wielded the knife.


In a separate video message released by the kidnappers, 62-year-old Bigley was shown pleading for his life and appealing to British Prime Minister Tony Blair for help.

"I don't want to die. I don't deserve it," Bigley said. He was wearing the same kind of orange overalls that Armstrong and Hensley were made to wear before they were killed.

Bigley sobbed as he said he wanted to see his family again.

"I think this is my last chance to speak. I don't want to die in Iraq, neither do the women in the prisons," he said in the 11-minute message. "I want to live, I want to live."

But British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the government could not negotiate with hostage-takers.

"Of course our hearts go out yet more to him and to his family," Straw told the BBC. "But I'm afraid to say it can't alter the position of the British government.

"We can't get into a situation of bargaining with terrorists, because this would put many more people's lives at risk, not only in Iraq but around the world."

Bigley's family asked the kidnappers to tell him that "(we) love him dearly and are waiting for him to come home soon."

In a statement, the family again appealed to Bigley's captors to free him: "You have proved to the world that you are committed and determined. Be merciful, as we know you can be."

In Bangkok, his weeping Thai wife Sombat said: "I pray for your mercy now and beg you to release him."


The U.S. military says it holds only two female prisoners in Iraq. Rihab Taha and Huda Ammash, dubbed "Dr. Germ" and "Mrs. Anthrax" by U.S. forces, are accused of working on former President Saddam Hussein's weapons programs.

Iraqi officials said a review process by Iraqis and U.S. forces had recommended 10 days ago that three "high-value detainees," including Taha, should be considered for release. But a statement from the government said Allawi did not want Taha to be freed for the moment.

Discussions on Taha's possible release were unrelated to the kidnappers' demands, the government added.

Since April, militant groups in Iraq have seized more than 100 hostages. Most have been released, but about 30 have been killed. Among those still believed to be held are two French journalists captured south of Baghdad last month.

Two Internet statements from different groups say the two Italian aid workers kidnapped earlier this month had been killed. One statement said pictures of the killing would be posted on the Internet.

The speaker of Italy's lower house of parliament, Pierferdinando Casini, told lawmakers the government believed the claims were "unreliable" and was treating them with "total suspicion."

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