Iraqi minister refuses to negotiate for release of UK hostage

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Hopes For the release of a British hostage kidnapped in Baghdad were fading last night after the Iraqi Foreign Minister said his government would not bow to the kidnappers' demands.

Hopes For the release of a British hostage kidnapped in Baghdad were fading last night after the Iraqi Foreign Minister said his government would not bow to the kidnappers' demands.

Kenneth Bigley, 62, a civil engineer who was working in Iraq, was abducted at gunpoint with two Americans colleagues on Thursday.

The Tawhid and Jihad group, which is linked to al-Qa'ida, has claimed responsibility and warned that the men face death unless America releases Iraqi women prisoners in the Abu Ghraib and Umm Qasr jails today. The Ministry of Defence and the US military have said no women are held at either jail.

Mr Bigley's mother, Elizabeth Bigley, 86, from Liverpool, made an appeal for her son's release yesterday. In an interview with the Sunday Mirror she said: "Please release my innocent son. We are beside ourselves with worry. I just don't want them to hurt him.

"He has not done anything to harm anyone. We just keep wondering to ourselves 'Why him?' He is a loving son, a wonderful father and a great brother. We just want him safe."

Iraq's Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, told the BBC's Breakfast With Frost programme yesterday that it would set "a very bad precedent" to give in to the militants' demands. "Really our policy is not to negotiate with the terrorists," Mr Zebari said.

"These people have an agenda trying to undermine this government, to influence the US elections, even beyond Iraq. They have ideological, very extreme views."

He added: "We are doing our best as a government to help and assist the interior ministry through getting as much information as possible and contacting third parties. But these times are difficult. We hope they will come home safely.

Tony Blair, who discussed the crisis with the Iraqi interim Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, at Downing Street yesterday, said: "Our governments are working closely on it. I don't think there's anything more I can or should say at this stage."

Mr Allawi added: "We are trying our best. Hopefully, we will achieve some good results."

Mr Blair's advisers are puzzled by the kidnappers' demands. "It is very odd, because they know we have no women prisoners," said one aide.

The Foreign Office said: "We are doing all we can to bring about the safe release of the hostages." A spokesman urged anyone with information to ring dedicated phone lines at the British embassy in Baghdad. The Foreign Office also made an appeal to Iraqis through the Dubai-based television news channel al-Arabiya for information about the kidnappers or hostages.

The hostages were employed by Gulf Supplies and Commercial Services, a construction contractor based in the United Arab Emirates, and lived in the wealthy al-Mansour district.

The family of Mr Bigley, who is twice married and has a grown-up son, received a personal telephone call from Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary.

In a video recording made by the captors and shown on the Arab television station, al-Jazeera on Saturday, Mr Bigley was shown blindfolded with his hands apparently bound. The footage showed the hostages seated on the floor with their heads bowed, while a masked man stood behind them reading from a sheet of paper.

Mr Bigley had been in Baghdad since shortly after the invasion of Iraq last year. He was said to have ignored advice to leave the country. The Foreign Office has drawn attention via its website to the continued threat of kidnappings in Iraq.

Comments