Militants threaten to behead Allawi's abducted relatives

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The Independent Online

Militants have threatened to behead three abducted members of the family of Iyad Allawi, Iraq's interim Prime Minister, unless he calls a halt to the assault on Fallujah.

Militants have threatened to behead three abducted members of the family of Iyad Allawi, Iraq's interim Prime Minister, unless he calls a halt to the assault on Fallujah.

Ghazi Allawi, a 75-year-old first cousin of the premier, was taken away by gunmen, along with his wife and daughter-in-law from their home in the Yarmouk district of Baghdad late on Tuesday.

Yesterday a group calling itself Ansar al-Jihad posted a notice on an Islamic website saying they will be decapitated within 48 hours if their demands are not met. As well as an end to the Fallujah operation, the militants also called for the release of all prisoners, echoing demands made by other hostage-takers.

Mr Allawi has closely identified himself with the attack on Fallujah, meeting Iraqi and US troops surrounding the city before the assault began. His spokesman, Thair al-Naqeeb, stressed that none of those held had any involvement with the government. A statement said: "This is yet another criminal act by terrorists and will not thwart the determination of the government to combat terrorism."

Ghazi Allawi, regarded as the patriarch of the extended family, is particularly close to the Prime Minister, who is said to regard him as an older brother. The abducted man's neighbours described him as someone who had deliberately avoided being identified with politics and government policy.

A senior Iraqi official said that the demands made by the hostage-takers "obviously could not be met". He added: "It is obviously a huge stress on the Prime Minister at a time when he is already under a tremendous amount of public pressure.

"We have not come across this group before. But obviously everything is being done to try and find the Prime Minister's relations."

Mr Allawi has developed a reputation as a tough man who brooks little opposition. He has repeatedly called on foreign governments not to give in to the demands of militants who kidnap their nationals, and most have abided by that. More than 170 foreigners have been kidnapped by insurgents in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in April 2003.

More than 30 foreign hostages have been killed. Many of the kidnappers pursue political objectives such as the withdrawal of foreign companies and troops from Iraq.

Elsewhere in Baghdad a car bomb exploded near an Iraqi police checkpoint last night killing seven people, police said. Witnesses said the blast, near the Culture Ministry in the Zayouneh area, destroyed several cars and blew a hole in the road. The impact shattered shop fronts, showering the street with broken glass. A charred car engine lay smouldering in the street on which vendors usually peddle snacks and cigarettes.

A police officer at the scene said casualties included both police and civilians.

"We took five women to hospital from here," said one man, whose house was damaged by the blast.

US troops and Iraqi police and National Guard sealed off the area.

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