Weeping hostage begs Blair not to move troops

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The Independent Online

A British aid chief held hostage in Iraq was shown in a new videotape today pleading tearfully with Tony Blair not to send troops to Baghdad.

A British aid chief held hostage in Iraq was shown in a new videotape today pleading tearfully with Tony Blair not to send troops to Baghdad.

Margaret Hassan, director of CARE International in Iraq, sobbed as she said she did not want to die like beheaded engineer Ken Bigley and urged the Government not to move Black Watch soldiers to the country's capital.

The dual British and Iraqi national, who was snatched by an armed gang in Baghdad on Tuesday, said: "Please help me. Please help me.

"This might be my last hours. Please help me. Please, the British people, ask Mr Blair to take the troops out of Iraq, and not to bring them here to Baghdad.

"That's why people like Mr Bigley and myself are being caught. And maybe we will die like Mr Bigley. Please, please, I beg of you."

Downing Street refused to respond to Mrs Hassan's statement, a day after it was confirmed that an 850-strong battle group is to be deployed as part of a US Marine expeditionary unit to take "decisive action" against insurgents in Iraq.

Mrs Hassan, who has lived in Iraq for 30 years, looked tired and distraught as she delivered her message, which was shown on Arab TV channel Al-Jazeera.

The tape did not include any claim of responsibility and her kidnappers were not pictured.

A Foreign Office official revealed earlier that it is not yet known which group is holding the aid worker.

An editor at Al-Jazeera, speaking anonymously, said the network received the tape today but refused to say how or where.

The footage followed an emotional appeal by Mrs Hassan's Iraqi husband, made yesterday in Baghdad.

Tahsine Ali Hassan said: "I don't know who has kidnapped her but they should know that my wife has worked almost all her life for the Iraqi people and considers herself an Iraqi.

"If this was for political reasons, I want to say that CARE is a humanitarian organisation and has nothing to do with politics.

"My wife is apolitical, she is a humanitarian worker and I ask you to release her."

Mrs Hassan had been a fierce critic of sanctions imposed on Iraq after the first Gulf War and had addressed the United Nations on the issue.

Her family confirmed that she had not received threats prior to the kidnapping and said they have not been contacted with any demands.

CARE International has suspended its work in Iraq as a result of the abduction and said it would respond to the release of the new tape later.

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