Husband seeks release of kidnapped CARE official

2 Egyptian engineers freed by Iraqi captors

October 21, 2004|By Colin McMahon and James Janega | Colin McMahon and James Janega,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

AMMAN, Jordan - The Iraqi husband of kidnapped CARE executive Margaret Hassan pleaded yesterday for his wife's release, while two Egyptian telecommunications engineers were freed after nearly a month in captivity.

"In the name of humanity, Islam and brotherhood, I appeal to the kidnappers to free her because she has nothing to do with politics," Tahseen Ali Hassan said on the Arab television channel Al-Arabiya, adding that Margaret Hassan had spent the past 30 years working to help the Iraqi people.

Hassan's husband told the Arab channel Al-Jazeera that the kidnappers had yet to contact anyone with demands. He said his wife had not been threatened before Tuesday, when armed men snatched her outside her Baghdad home.

CARE International said it was suspending operations, the latest blow to efforts by the interim government and U.S.-led military forces to establish stability and improve the lives of average Iraqis.

Many other aid organizations already had curtailed their activities or pulled foreign staff out of Iraq. The kidnapping of Hassan, who holds British, Irish and Iraqi citizenship and is one of the most respected and well-known aid officials in the region, increases the pressure on groups that remain.

"All the NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] we talked to are really struggling with trying to make the decision," Marie-Helene Verney, spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, told the Associated Press. "The general trend is that everyone is pulling out."

Verney said the few groups that remain, which she declined to name for security reasons, also were struggling with the high costs of operating in Iraq, primarily because so much security is needed.

More than 150 foreigners have been taken hostage in Iraq, some by criminal groups seeking ransom and others by militants opposed to the U.S.-led military presence and the interim Iraqi government installed after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The kidnappers have killed at least 30, some in beheadings recorded on videotape.

The kidnappings, car bombings and general instability have chased away private businesses as well, further sabotaging a stumbling rebuilding effort in desperate need of foreign investment and expertise.

Abductions last month of a Jordanian transport administrator and of Egyptian and Iraqi mobile telephone workers showed that even Arab investors and their workers are at risk.

Egyptians Mustafa Mohammed Abdel Latif and Mahmoud Turk, who were working for the Iraqna phone company, were seized Sept. 23 and freed yesterday, reportedly with the help of Tawhid and Jihad, the militant group of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Al-Zarqawi's group, which has claimed several kidnappings and beheadings of Westerners, is known to have purchased kidnap victims from groups seeking ransom. But according to Shamil Hanafi, an Iraqna official, a different group freed the Egyptians after al-Zarqawi's people "intervened for their release in the last 48 hours."

Money frequently mixes with politics as a motive in the kidnappings. Hisham Talab el-Aza of Jordan's Starlite Co. was taken Sept. 30 outside his Baghdad home. Nothing was heard about him until a video broadcast Oct. 2 on an Arab channel showed militants threatening to kill him. At first the captors demanded $500,000 and the exchange of el-Aza for his boss, whom the militants accused of working with the Americans.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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