Iraqi captors threaten to kill hostages

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Four Western hostages, including the Briton Norman Kember, have been threatened with death by their captors unless all Iraqi prisoners in US and Iraqi detention centres are released by next Thursday, according to a videotape shown on Arabic television.

In a statement delivered with the tape to the Arab satellite channel al-Jazeera, the kidnappers gave the US and British governments until 8 December to meet their demands. The al-Jazeera broadcaster said: "They set as conditions that all detainees in the prisons of the collaborator Iraqi government are released and that all detainees are released from the prisons of the occupation [forces]."

Mr Kember, 74, of Pinner, north-west London, appeared on tape alongside the American Tom Fox, 54, while the two Canadians James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, were shown in a separate clip. The men were identified by the US organisation they belong to, Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). They were seized in Baghdad last week.

The tape showed the four hostages looking very frightened. Mr Kember and Mr Fox were shown talking to the camera but no audio was transmitted. The kidnappers' accompanying statement explained that the two were calling on their respective governments to withdraw from Iraq, al-Jazeera said.

In a second clip, the two Canadian hostages were shown eating from plates of what appeared to be Arabic sweets. In video footage released earlier this week, the kidnappers accused their hostages of spying for foreign forces in Iraq. The video also showed Mr Kember, a grandfather and a former professor at the Medical College of St Bartholomew's Hospital, sitting on the floor next to his fellow hostages with a flag bearing crossed black swords and the group's name, The Swords of Righteousness, hanging on the wall behind him.

The Swords of Righteousness is a hitherto unknown group but US and Iraqi officials said that they appeared to be Sunnis.

More than 100 foreigners have been seized by insurgents in Iraq in the past two years.