British hostage freed

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The British civilian worker who had been held hostage in Iraq for almost a week was released last night but uncertainty remained over the fate of other foreigners held by insurgents.

The British civilian worker who had been held hostage in Iraq for almost a week was released last night but uncertainty remained over the fate of other foreigners held by insurgents.

Gary Teeley, 37 from Woolwich, south London, was working as a contractor at a coalition air base outside the southern city of Nasiriyah when he was kidnapped last Monday.

The Italian army, which has a contingent in Nasiriyah, said the road to Mr Teeley's release opened when its special forces raided a base of supporters of the radical Shia cleric Muqtada Sadr yesterday. They found evidence linking the group to the kidnap of Mr Teeley.

Colonel Giuseppe Perrone, a spokesman for the Italian military, said the troops called in local officials, who helped negotiate the release. "The activity, which intensified in the course of the day with mediation by local authorities, brought about the release of the hostage," he said.

Mr Teeley was being cared for in an Italian hospital in the area last night, Colonel Perrone said. The Foreign Office confirmed he was safe and well.

The al-Jazeera network aired a videotape yesterday of a masked man saying that eight other hostages had been released ­ three from Pakistan, two Turks, an Indian, a Nepali and one from the Philippines.

China's official Xinhua news agency reported that seven Chinese nationals had been kidnapped in central Iraq yesterday. It gave no further details.

As deadlines set by their captors passed, there was little news on three Japanese and one American being held.Conflicting signals emerged about the fate of the Japanese during the day. A Japanese news agency reported that one of those negotiating for their release had told the government in Tokyothey were unharmed and near Fallujah, apparently confirming the suggestions of government sources earlier that they would be freed.

But the families of the three ­ a freelance writer, a volunteer worker and a photojournalist ­ said they had heard nothing and pleaded with the Japanese government to meet the kidnappers' demands for their troops to withdraw from Iraq. A 130,000-signature petition was handed to the government.

Nor was there any news about the American civilian worker Thomas Hamill, 43, after the passing of yesterday morning's deadline imposed by his abductors. Mr Hamill was snatched on Friday by gunmen who attacked a fuel convoy he was guarding outside Baghdad. He was paraded on television and his captors threatened to kill him unless US troops ended their assault on Fallujah.

Most of Iraq had a relatively quiet period after days of heavy fighting between militants and Allied troops. The two-man crew of a US Apache helicopter was killed when it was shot down by guerrillas on the outskirts of Baghdad. A truce in Fallujah enabled talks to begin on ending the siege in which 600 Iraqis are said to have been killed and 1,200 wounded.

Although the fighting at Fallujah ceased after guerrilla commanders told their gunmen to halt operations, the consequences of the US actions are likely to reverberate for some time. Dr Adnan Pachachi, a senior member of the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, to whom the Allies are to hand over power on 30 June, told The Independent the siege of Fallujah "makes clear that the council has no authority. We were never told about the attack."

Dr Pachachi, an 80-year-old former Iraqi foreign minister, underlined the degree to which moderate Iraqis had been alienated, saying: "The whole thing smacks of an act of vengeance. It is collective punishment. Too much force was used."

The US military said 12 American soldiers had died on Friday and Saturday.