Iraq hostage found alive

A French engineer taken hostage in Iraq last month has been found alive, police said today.

A French engineer taken hostage in Iraq last month has been found alive, police said today.

The engineer was found in a car several men had fled from just before reaching a checkpoint in the western Baghdad suburb of Abu Ghraib on Saturday night, said Major Falah al-Mohammadawi.

Bernard Planche, who worked for a non-governmental organisation called AACCESS, was kidnapped on December 5 on his way to work at a Baghdad water plant. Militants last month released a video of him sitting between two armed men.

During his traditional New Year’s Eve address on television, French President Jacques Chirac sent a special message to Planche’s family, saying officials were “fully mobilised to obtain his freedom”.

Insurgents have kidnapped hundreds of foreigners in the past two years, aiming to force US-led troops to leave Iraq or prevent Arab nations from strengthening their ties with the Baghdad government.

Some of the hostages were killed, while others were released after ransoms were paid or freed after Muslim clerics called the armed groups to release them.

On December 8, the Islamic Army in Iraq claimed to have killed US electrician Ronald Schulz. Other groups are holding four Christian humanitarian workers - two Canadians, a Briton, Norman Kember, and an American.

No news has been received about the fate of those men since a group claiming responsibility for their capture imposed a December 10 deadline for their killings. The previously unknown Swords of Righteousness Brigade had threatened to kill the group if the US and Britain did not release all detainees in Iraq.

Mr Kember, 74, Canadians James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, and American Tom Fox, 54, were abducted in Baghdad on November 26. All four were working in Iraq with Christian Peacemaker Teams, a Canadian-based organisation that has investigated allegations of abuse against Iraqi prisoners.

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