Pull charity out of Iraq, pleads Hassan in new video

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The Independent Online

The kidnapped aid worker Margaret Hassan appeared in a new videotaped message last night, calling on Britain to withdraw its troops from Iraq.

The kidnapped aid worker Margaret Hassan appeared in a new videotaped message last night, calling on Britain to withdraw its troops from Iraq.

Looking terrified and exhausted, Mrs Hassan pleaded for the release of female Iraqi prisoners in a recording which was broadcast on the Arabic television station al-Jazeera. Sitting in a dimly lit-room, Mrs Hassan was filmed blinking back tears and speaking directly into the camera. "Please don't bring the soldiers to Baghdad ... Please, on top of that, please release the women prisoners from prisons."

Mrs Hassan, who has lived in Iraq for 30 years, was last seen in a video broadcast on the Arabic station on Friday, in which she made a similar plea to Tony Blair to pull British troops out of Iraq and refrain from deploying them near Baghdad. In both tapes, Mrs Hassan was shown alone with no armed men present.

Mrs Hassan, who was the country director of Care International, also asked the aid organisation to close its offices in Iraq. Care International has suspended its work in the country since her abduction on 19 October when Mrs Hassan, who holds British, Iraqi and Irish citizenship, was snatched by a gang of armed men on her way to work in Baghdad. No group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.

Commanders of five separate guerrilla groups in Fallujah said they were not holding Mrs Hassan and had seen no evidence that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's organisation had kidnapped her.

She is the second British hostage to be taken in Iraq in recent weeks. Kenneth Bigley's kidnappers had also demanded coalition authorities release all female prisoners held in Iraq.

Mrs Hassan's husband, Tahseen Ali Hassan, said yesterday the new video made him feel "a little bit more optimistic".

"In this film she is seen wearing a black T-shirt. I remember distinctly that she had a white shirt on when she left for work the morning she was kidnapped, and that is what she was wearing in the first video. So this is a new film, and it shows, at least, that she has not been killed. I can only hang on to small bits of hope like that," he said.

However, Mr Hassan added: "They made her ask for British troops to be stopped from coming towards Baghdad, and for the release of all women prisoners.

"Mr Blair will not listen to her. As I keep on saying, she is Irish, not British."

Although Kenneth Bigley, the Briton kidnapped and then murdered by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's group also made a plea for the release of women prisoners, there is no evidence that Mrs Hassan is being held by them.

Videos released by the group always show a banner with their name in the background and also armed masked men flanking the hostage. Women prisoners held by Sunni militia have also always appeared on video with their heads covered.

However, there is also the fear that with Fallujah about to be attacked by the Americans and British troops moving up to join US operations, Mrs Hassan has become a valuable commodity to be traded between militant groups.

The Foreign Office said efforts are continuing to discover who is holding Mrs Hassan, but has denied the Government had sought the assistance of an intermediary thought to have previously made contact with the killers of Mr Bigley.

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