Muslim Brotherhood leader calls for release of British hostage

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The Independent Online

The president of the Muslim Brotherhood called for the immediate release of the British peace campaigner Norman Kember last night as his kidnappers extended the deadline for his threatened execution.

Mohammed Mahdi Akef, who heads the world's oldest Islamic political movement, said: "In the name of the Muslim Brotherhood worldwide I call for the Western peace activists to be released immediately."

It is the latest message to be issued by a prominent Islamist in support of the 74-year-old pacifist who was seized in Baghdad on 26 November with two Canadians and an American.

His captors, the Swords of Righteousness Brigade, have threatened to kill the men if Iraqi prisoners are not freed from American and Iraqi jails by today.

In the latest message, broadcast on al-Jazeera television, Mr Akef said: "Islam rejects the kidnapping of innocent people regardless of their aim, beliefs and opinion, and all laws locally and internationally consider kidnapping a crime."

He described Mr Kember as an "innocent peace activist ... known for [his] activity and solidarity for the Iraqi cause."

Mr Akef, whose Muslim Brotherhood organisation is banned in Egypt, said Mr Kember's Christian Peacemaker Team had worked in solidarity with Palestinian people "against Israeli aggression". He added: "Such people should be welcomed, not harmed, and their efforts should be endorsed."

Meanwhile, prayers were said yesterday for Mr Kember at Finsbury Park mosque in north London, as well as for Iraqi prisoners. Anas Altikriti, who has been sent by the Muslim Association of Britain to the Middle East to try to secure Mr Kember's release, was also continuing discussions with Jordan-based Iraqis from the Sunni Triangle area of the country.

Earlier, a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner, the Briton Moazzam Begg, had called for the hostages' release. And on Wednesday the radical cleric Abu Qatada, who has been detained in Britain for two years, issued a video appeal for the safe release of the captives.