Bigley gets Irish passport in attempt to win freedom

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Indy Politics

The Irish government stepped up its efforts yesterday to secure the release of the British hostage Ken Bigley by granting him a passport to prove his Irish heritage.

The Irish government stepped up its efforts yesterday to secure the release of the British hostage Ken Bigley by granting him a passport to prove his Irish heritage.

The move came after the family of Mr Bigley made a request for the Briton to be granted citizenship on the basis that his mother came from Ireland.

On Sunday night, an Iraqi cleric claiming to have seen the 62-year-old engineer in custody said his kidnappers were asking for "clarification" about his nationality. Imam Syed al-Kareem said Tawhid and Jihad, which has held Mr Bigley for 20 days, considered Ireland to be a neutral country in the Iraqi conflict and would not harm its citizens. Ireland opposed the American-led invasion of Iraq.

There were plans last night to broadcast pictures of the new passport, granted within 24 hours of a request from Paul Bigley, the hostage's brother, on the pan-Arabic television news station, al-Jazeera.

The engineer was travelling on a British passport when he was abducted but the Irish government has made several pleas for his release since his Irish roots came to light.

Paul Bigley said he hoped the passport would provide Tawhid and Jihad with the basis for releasing the Briton or passing him to a group motivated by financial rather than political gain.

In London, the Foreign Office last night insisted the decision to issue Mr Bigley with a passport was entirely a matter for the Irish authorities. But it is understood the move followed consultations between the Irish and British governments amid concern from Dublin that it did not want to be seen to be interfering with British efforts to secure Mr Bigley's release.

Under Irish law, anyone with an Irish parent or grandparent is eligible for an Irish passport.

Suggestions that Mr Bigley could be transferred to a new group willing to exchange him for a ransom surfaced this weekend in a Kuwait newspaper which correctly predicted the release last week of two Italian aid workers.

The editor of the newspaper yesterday said the process of handing over the Briton had hit several obstacles, including how a ransom might be paid.

* The comedian Billy Connolly was booed by an audience in London after he made jokes about the threatened execution of Mr Bigley, saying: "Don't you wish they would just get on with it?" Connolly's management declined to comment.

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