Captives' release urged

Sunni cleric makes appeal for Western hostages on eve of deadline


BAGHDAD, IRAQ -- A leading Sunni cleric in Baghdad called for the release of four Western hostages yesterday, a day before the deadline imposed by their kidnappers.

With his appeal during his sermon at the Abu Hanifa mosque in the predominantly Sunni Arab neighborhood of Adhamiya, Moayad Adami joined a growing chorus calling for the release of the humanitarian workers, an American, a British citizen and two Canadians, who were abducted Nov. 26.

He encouraged his congregation "to inform whoever has any influence, or to lend a helping hand [for] their release."

"Whoever shows virtue should be met and treated with virtue, too," he added.

This week, a Muslim group that included members of the militant organizations Hamas and Hezbollah called for "the immediate release of these four hostages and of all other Western civilians kidnapped in Iraq."

The appeals of war protester Cindy Sheehan, whose son died in Iraq last year, and the wife of Norman Kember, the 74-year-old British hostage, have both been broadcast on the Arabic-language TV station Al-Jazeera.

"Swords of Righteousness," a previously unknown group, has vowed to kill the four peace activists unless all Iraqi detainees are freed by today, according to an Internet statement. Its captives have been shown on TV wearing orange jumpsuits.

A militant group said Thursday that it had killed an American contractor, identified as Ronald Alan Schulz, because its demands had not been met, according to an Internet statement. The claim could not be verified.

If true, it would be the first known slaying of an American held by insurgents in 15 months.

Other Westerners are also missing. This week, gunmen abducted Bernard Planche, a French engineer, as he was leaving for work in an upscale Baghdad neighborhood. The French government, which has advised its citizens to stay out of Iraq, said Planche had been living without proper security.

A German archaeologist and her Iraqi driver who were abducted late last month also remain missing. The alleged kidnappers have demanded that Germany stop cooperating with the Iraqi government.

Thousands of ordinary Iraqis have been kidnapped, mostly by criminal gangs demanding ransoms, since the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

A statement from the U.S. military yesterday said Marines in Ramadi had arrested a local leader of al-Qaida in Iraq. It identified the man as Amir Khalaf Fanus and said he also is known as "the Butcher." It said Fanus - who was wanted for murder, kidnapping and other crimes - is the highest-ranking member of the group to be turned in by local Iraqis.

Outside the Abu Hanifa mosque in Baghdad yesterday, talk among worshipers focused on the Dec. 15 national elections.

Though he did not participate in January's election, 46-year-old Abu Ahmad said he planned to vote this time. "We are all going to participate in the elections," he said, referring to his largely Sunni neighborhood.

In cities throughout Iraq, clerics used the preacher's pulpit during Friday prayers to get out the vote.

"This is the last call," Ali Alzand, a Sunni cleric told followers at Baghdad's Umm al Qura mosque. To avoid being marginalized once again, Sunnis should vote as families, Alzand said.

One of the worshippers, Ahmed Hindi Mahmoud Alhiiti, said that he was afraid of fraud and violence on election day but that he would vote for one of the Sunni slates.

He had gotten the cleric's message: "Your vote is a trust that you will be asked about on judgment day," Alzand said.

Louise Roug writes for the Los Angeles Times.

Killed in Iraq

As of Thursday, 2,134 U.S. service members have died since the beginning of military operations in March 2003.


Ten Marines were killed Dec. 1 by an explosive in Fallujah; assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force; Twentynine Palms, Calif.:

Staff Sgt. Daniel J. Clay, 27, Pensacola, Fla.

Lance Cpl. John M. Holmason, 20, Surprise, Ariz.

Lance Cpl. David A. Huhn, 24, Portland, Mich.

Lance Cpl. Adam W. Kaiser, 19, Naperville, Ill.

Lance Cpl. Robert A. Martinez, 20, Splendora, Texas

Cpl. Anthony T. McElveen, 20, Little Falls, Minn.

Lance Cpl. Scott T. Modeen, 24, Hennepin, Minn.

Lance Cpl. Andrew G. Patten, 19, Byron, Ill.

Sgt. Andy A. Stevens, 29, Tomah, Wis.

Lance Cpl. Craig N. Watson, 21, Union City, Mich.

Sgt. Grzegorz Jakoniuk, 25, Schiller Park, Ill.; died Nov. 30 in Taji of nonhostile injuries; assigned to the Army's 4th Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division; Fort Campbell, Ky.

Cpl. William G. Taylor, 26, Macon, Ga.; killed by small-arms fire Nov. 30 in Fallujah; assigned to 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force; Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Staff Sgt. William D. Richardson, 30, Houston; died Nov. 30 of wounds suffered in a vehicle accident near Taqaddum; assigned to Marine Wing Support Squadron-372, Marine Wing Support Group-37, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing; Camp Pendleton, Calif.

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