Briton may have paid a fatal price for his passion for the Middle East

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When neighbours of Kenneth Bigley urged him to leave Baghdad amid growing fears for his safety, he would shrug off their concerns and say: "I'm not afraid. You only die once."

When neighbours of Kenneth Bigley urged him to leave Baghdad amid growing fears for his safety, he would shrug off their concerns and say: "I'm not afraid. You only die once."

It appeared ysterday that Mr Bigley may have paid the ultimate price for his determination to live life to the full as the threatened deadline for his execution by his captors came and went.

It was his passion for the Arab world that led 62-year-old Mr Bigley to swap his home city of Liverpool more than 10 years ago for a series of civil engineering positions in the Middle East.

After working in Qatar, Oman, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, he moved to Baghdad shortly after the invasion of Iraq last year. He was working for Gulf Supplies and Commercial Services, a construction contractor based in the UAE.

Mr Bigley was employed with the two Americans who were also taken hostage from the home they shared in the suburb of Mansour.

While some Iraqi neighbours questioned his decision to ignore safety warnings by staying in the country, others emphasised his generosity and kindness. One example cited was the fact that he allowed his neighbours free use of his electricity supply.

However, it appears that his capture has pre-empted the imminent departure and pending retirement for which he was holding out.

After a decade of working in the Middle East, Mr Bigley, who has been married twice, was reportedly looking forward to retiring to Thailand in the near future to be with his Thai wife.

Yesterday, Mr Bigley's family described the "distress" of his 86-year-old mother, Lil, and appealed to his captors to release him.

The picture painted of Mr Bigley was one of a selfless man who had warmly embraced Islamic culture during his decade in the Middle East.

Speaking in a television message broadcast by Arab media and recorded in Liverpool, his brother Philip said: "Ken has enjoyed working in the Arab world for the past 10 years in civil engineering and has many Arabic friends.

"He is understanding and appreciative of the Islamic culture. His love of the area is what has kept him there for so many years and is the reason he was prepared to help in Baghdad where many others would be worried for their own safety.

"He wanted to help the ordinary Iraqi people and is just doing his job.

"We just want him home safe and well."

The words of another brother, Paul, 54, echoed these sentiments. "I would fly to Baghdad now and exchange myself for him, that's how much I love him," he told The Sun . "Ken is such a good guy, he is my best mate."

Mr Bigley's son, Craig, 33, said on BBC News 24: I ask Tony Blair personally to consider the amount of bloodshed already suffered. Please meet the demands and release my father - two women for two men.

"Only you can save him now. You have children and you will understand how I feel at this time."

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