Wed, Jul 28, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Powell calls for unity over Iraq hostage developments

FRESH APPEAL Pakistan called on militants to let its two nationals go free as Jordan indicated it was optimistic about securing the release of its citizens


US Secretary of State Colin Powell yesterday called for unity among US-led forces in Iraq as a mortar attack in Baghdad killed a civilian and wounded more than a dozen soldiers and fears ran high for foreign hostages facing death threats.

Islamabad made a fresh appeal for two Pakistanis being held along with an Iraqi national, while Amman sought to negotiate the release of two Jordanian drivers abducted on Monday by a separate Islamic militant group.

Violence continued to claim civilian lives, as an early morning mortar attack in residential Baghdad killed a rubbish collector and wounded 14 US soldiers and a civilian.

South of Baghdad, a deputy hospital director, Kassem el-Abadi, 40, was shot dead by gunmen in a car on his way home late Monday, the health ministry said.

In Hungary, Powell called for countries which have deployed military forces in Iraq to stick together, as the hostage crisis continues to fray government nerves.

"There is a brighter future ahead for the Iraqi people only if the coalition stays together," Powell told Hungarian TV at the start of a tour of six Middle Eastern and European countries.

Hungary was one of about 30 countries that sent troops to Iraq after last year's US-led invasion, but maintains only about 300 soldiers in the country.

Five countries have already pulled out of the US-led multinational force. Washington fears that continued attacks, along with the kidnappings and brutal murders of a number of foreigners, will encourage others to follow suit.

Pakistan yesterday renewed its call for the release of two of its nationals threatened with death by their Islamic militant abductors, insisting they were not working for US forces and denying Islamabad planned to send troops to Iraq.

Azad Hussein Khan, 49, a maintenance engineer, and Sajjad Naeem, 29, a driver, are being held by a group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq.

"We appeal to the captors to release the two innocent Pakistanis in the name of humanity," said Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Masood Khan.

In Amman, meanwhile, the government said it was optimistic that two Jordanian hostages who worked for a company supplying US forces in Iraq would soon be freed.

Ahmed Salameh Hussein, 34, and Fayez Saad al-Adwan, 58, were employed by the Jordanian company Daoud and Partners, a supplier to the US military.

"We are continuing to make contacts and are optimistic about reaching a positive outcome soon," said a Jordanian government official, asking not to be named.

The men's kidnappers have reportedly given the company 72 hours to halt its operations in Iraq, threatening otherwise to execute the two Jordanians.

Anguished relatives of more than 20 foreigners still missing or held hostage in Iraq took heart from the release of an Egyptian diplomat -- set free late on Monday after his abductors said they were impressed by his religious faith.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Mohamed Mamdouh Kotb said he had been seized in protest at Egypt's ties with Iraq's US-backed caretaker government.

"These people are Islamists, definitely, they are not common criminals," he said. The men refused any kind of ransom for his release, he said.

Three Indians, three Kenyans and an Egyptian have been given an 11th-hour stay of execution after their kidnappers appointed a tribal sheikh to negotiate with their Kuwaiti employers and respective embassies.

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