Fri, Jul 09, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Violence, chaos in Iraq continue

KIDNAPPINGS While insurgents in the troubled country threatened to behead yet another hostage, an abducted US Marine was reportedly safe, amid confused reports

REUTERS , BAGHDAD

An Iraqi boy looks out from the window of his destroyed family house after it was hit in a firefight between insurgents and US troops overnight in Baghdad yesterday. Witnesses said US forces patrolling in the area fired at the house.

PHOTO: AFP

A death threat hung over a Filipino hostage in Iraq yesterday, and the fate of a kidnapped Lebanese-born US Marine remained uncertain.

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ordered no more workers to go to Iraq after Arabic al Jazeera television said gunmen had seized a Filipino there and threatened to kill him unless Manila withdrew its troops within 72 hours.

Relatives of Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun said they had no news of his whereabouts, though Beirut's US embassy said it had credible information the Marine was in Lebanon.

Hassoun went missing from his unit on June 21 and is thought to have been kidnapped. On Tuesday, his relatives in north Lebanon said they had received word he had been released.

But his brother, Sami Hassoun, told reporters yesterday there had been no news since.

US officials in Beirut confirmed a report from the State Department that it had information Hassoun was in Lebanon, but said he was not in the embassy.

"We have credible information that he is in Lebanon and safe but this is not confirmed," an embassy spokeswoman said.

Kidnappers have seized dozens of foreigners since April to press demands for foreign troops to leave Iraq, to deter foreigners from working with US forces or to extract ransom.

Many hostages have been freed, but at least four have been killed, including an American and a South Korean beheaded by a group led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Iraq's interim government, determined to crush foreign Islamist militants and Iraqi insurgents, announced a new security law on Wednesday giving itself powers to declare martial law in defined areas for periods of up to 60 days.

Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's government, which formally took sovereign powers on June 28, has said it plans to restore the death penalty, suspended during the US-led occupation, and offer a temporary amnesty for rebels not guilty of serious crimes.

Gunmen shot and wounded the assistant dean of Kerbala University, Falah al-Safi, as he drove to work in the southern Shiite shrine city on Thursday, police said.

The motive for the attack was not clear, but intellectuals, politicians and bureaucrats are often targeted by insurgents bent on keeping Iraq unstable.

The Philippines, a staunch ally of the US, has about 50 military personnel in Iraq helping in reconstruction, as well as 4,300 civilian workers, many employed by contractors and working in US military bases.

Arroyo's spokesman said there would be a decision "very shortly" in response to the troop withdrawal demand.

Three Filipino workers have been killed in attacks by insurgents opposed to the US military presence in Iraq.

Manila's top diplomat in Baghdad said there was no firm word on the hostage's identity or where he had been seized.

"Until now we cannot establish for sure that he is a Filipino national," charge d'affaires Ricardo Endaya told reporters, adding that the embassy was contacting Iraqi authorities and possible intermediaries to seek his release.

A video tape aired by al Jazeera on Wednesday showed a man in an orange jumpsuit kneeling in front of three gunmen. A banner behind them identified the group as the Khalid bin Waleed Corps of the Islamic Army in Iraq.

It showed the identity card of Hafidh Amer, an Iraqi security company employee the gunmen said they had killed.

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