Kidnappers set to free US journalist

A top aide to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said today that kidnappers who abducted and threatened to kill a US journalist had promised to set him free.

A top aide to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said today that kidnappers who abducted and threatened to kill a US journalist had promised to set him free.

Sheik Aws al-Khafaji said he had spoken to the kidnappers, who told him they would release Micah Garen later today.

“The kidnappers have put the journalist in a safe place,” al-Khafaji said from the southern city of Nasiriyah. “They expressed their readiness to release the journalist after Friday prayers.”

The pan-Arab television station Al-Jazeera reported yesterday that a militant group calling itself the Martyrs Brigade had abducted Garen and would kill him within 48 hours unless US troops pull out of the war-shattered city of Najaf.

Another official in al-Sadr’s office, however, said Garen would only be released “after the crisis in Najaf is defused.”

Garen and his Iraqi translator, Amir Doushi, were walking through a market in the southern city of Nasiriyah on August 13 when two armed men in civilian clothes seized them.

There was no word on Doushi’s fate.

Al-Khafaji said the rebel cleric’s militia was against kidnapping, “especially this journalist who rendered Nasiriyah great service”.

“Since the day he was kidnapped, we have been calling upon the kidnappers through mosque prayers to free him,” he said.

Sunday Telegraph journalist James Brandon was kidnapped and similarly threatened with death last week, but freed the next day after a public appeal by al-Sadr’s aides, including al-Khafaji.

A Turkish company announced it was withdrawing its employees from Iraq in an effort to save the life of a worker taken hostage by Iraqi militants. Turkish media said the kidnappers have threatened to kill the hostage if the company did not leave within three days.

A statement from Tepe Construction said it was pulling its employees out in an effort to secure the release of Aytullah Gezmen, who has been missing for three weeks.

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