The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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UK stands firm on hostages

Baghdad, Sept. 23 (Reuters): The British and Iraqi governments said today 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 US-run jails.

After a day of confusion yesterday over whether one of two Iraqi women in US 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. The hostage crisis has added to the pressure on Iraq's government as it tackles a widespread insurgency ahead of elections scheduled for January.

Italy's government dismissed two Internet statements saying two female Italian aid workers kidnapped in Iraq had been killed.

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.

British hostage Kenneth Bigley's brothers Stanley (left) and Philip (right) and son Craig during the televised appeal in Liverpool.

The Tawhid and Jihad group led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi says it killed Armstrong and Hensley because the US military rejected its demand to free all Iraqi women from American-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.'

Bigley appealed to Blair to meet the demands. 'Mr Blair, I'm nothing to you, just one person in the United Kingdom with a family like you... You can help, I know you can.'

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

Iraqi officials said a review process by Iraqis and US 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.

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