Iraqi militants free kidnapped British journalist

IRAQI militants yesterday released a British journalist they had kidnapped and threatened to kill.

Following intervention by aides to militant Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, James Brandon was taken to al-Sadr’s local office and freed.

The 23-year-old Londoner was snatched from his hotel in the southern city of Basra yesterday and spent a traumatic 24 hours living with the threat of execution.

The Sunday Telegraph journalist was paraded on television screens worldwide, ashen-faced and bare chested, wearing a large white bandage around his head.

Insurgents insisted they would kill Brandon if American troops did not pull out of the holy city of Najaf. But intervention by the radical Shi’ite cleric al-Sadr has been credited with securing his release.

Brandon was badly bruised, with a black eye and swelling on his face after release. He held an impromptu news conference and thanked the kidnappers and al-Sadr’s aides.

“I’m OK, I’m recovering. I’ve been released thanks to (al-Sadr’s) Mahdi Army, because they intervened and negotiated with the kidnappers,” he said.

Al-Sadr’s office in Basra had condemned the abduction and called on the captors to release him immediately.

At that point, Brandon’s kidnappers, who had beaten him, threatened to kill him and even carried out a fake execution with an unloaded gun, changed their attitude, he said.

“They just told me they realised I was a journalist and they said I was going to be let go,” he said.

The freelance journalist, who is virtually fluent in Arabic, has been in Iraq for 10 months.

Meanwhile, an Islamic website posted pictures yesterday that purportedly showed Iraqi militants beheading an Egyptian man who they claimed was spying for the US military.

There was no way to verify the authenticity of the images, and there was no record that the man, identified on the website as Mohammed Fawzi Abdaal Mutwalli, had been kidnapped. The pictures are apparently stills from a video that cannot be accessed on the site but can be seen on an English language site that does not appear to have political links. Neither site gave a date for the killing. Police officials have said Mutwalli, 45, went to Iraq in 1986 to work as a car mechanic.

Yesterday’s edition of the opposition newspaper Ahrar quoted the Egyptian Foreign Ministry as saying it had received no news of Mutwalli’s kidnapping or killing.

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