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THE CONFLICT IN IRAQ

British Muslims Arrive to Seek Hostage's Release

September 26, 2004|From Reuters

BAGHDAD — A two-man delegation from Britain's biggest Muslim group arrived in Iraq on Saturday on a quest to free British hostage Kenneth Bigley, who was seized by Islamic militants more than a week ago and threatened with death.

After arriving in Baghdad, the men acknowledged that they faced a tall order in securing the release of the 62-year-old engineer but said they had faith that something could be done.

"Miracles do happen," Musharraf Hussain, a representative from the Muslim Council of Britain, told reporters in Baghdad.

"We believe in the power of prayer turning people's hearts, and we can only have that trust and reliance in our God.... If [the captors] have faith in their hearts and the seeds of true submission to God, then there will be some change."

Hussain and fellow delegate Dawud Abdullah arrived on a flight from Kuwait, where they told reporters that they believed Bigley was alive.

Bigley and two American colleagues were seized from their home in Baghdad on Sept. 16. The Americans -- Eugene "Jack" Armstrong and Jack Hensley -- were beheaded after their captors' demand that all female prisoners be released from Iraqi prisons was not met.

The kidnappers are threatening to kill Bigley too but have set no deadline.

An Islamist website, which has posted unsubstantiated claims about hostages in the past, said Saturday that Bigley had been killed. The British Foreign Office said that the website lacked credibility and that it could not confirm such a claim.

Speaking in Kuwait, Abdullah said the delegation hoped to meet religious leaders and scholars. In Baghdad, he said he hoped their message would get through to Bigley's captors.

The Muslim Council is Britain's largest lobby for the nation's 1.8 million Muslims. Representatives of one affiliate, the Muslim Assn. of Britain, appeared on the Arabic-language satellite TV channel Al Jazeera to make a direct appeal to the kidnappers for Bigley's release.

The pleas were made after the British government said it had distributed 50,000 leaflets in Baghdad at the request of Bigley's family members, who want to explore all means to save him.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Tony Blair, blamed by many for the hostage crisis because of his decision to go to war in Iraq, praised Bigley's family. The family members have been holed up in their house in Liverpool waiting for news of Bigley's fate.

"I think everyone is amazed at how dignified they have been over the last few days, and we will continue to do whatever we can," Blair said.

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