Kidnapped American reporter Jill Carroll appeared in a silent 20-second video aired in Iraq yesterday by Al-Jazeera television, which said her abductors gave the US 72 hours to free female prisoners or she would be killed.
The tape showed the 28-year-old reporter sitting in front of a white background and speaking, but her voice could not be heard. On the tape, Carroll is pale and appears tired, and her long, straight, brown hair is parted in the middle and pulled back from her face.
Al-Jazeera would not say how it received the tape, but the station issued its own statement calling for Carroll’s release. An Al-Jazeera producer said no militant group’s name was attached to the message that was sent to the station with the silent tape yesterday.
Her abduction occurred as Sunni Arab politicians are discussing their possible participation in a coalition government, which the US hopes will help defuse the Sunni-led insurgency and heal sectarian rifts between Sunnis and Shiites.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani predicted yesterday that the country’s most prominent Sunni Arab political group would join a national unity government once December 15 election results are announced. No date has been set for the results’ release.
Also yesterday, a court official said a Shiite lawyer is expected to take charge of Saddam Hussein’s trial in the 1982 massacre of more than 140 Shiites, replacing the Kurdish chief judge who resigned amid claims of government interference in the high profile case.
Said al-Hamash, the second-ranking member of the five-judge tribunal trying the former Iraqi leader and seven co-defendants, is expected to replace chief judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin, said Raid Juhi, the top investigating judge who prepared the case against Saddam.
Amin’s expected resignation followed complaints over the slow progress of the trial into allegations of Saddam’s involvement in the 1982 Dujail killings north of Baghdad following an assassination attempt against him.
The switch is not expected to prevent the trial’s January 24 scheduled resumption. The trial recessed December 22 after two days of testimony. Conviction could bring a sentence of death by hanging.
Amin would be the second judge to step down. Another panel member removed himself in late November because one of the co-defendants may have been involved in the execution of his brother.
Since the trial opened on October 19, two defence lawyers also have been assassinated and a third has fled the country. Police also uncovered a plot to fire rockets at the courtroom in late November.
Talabani would not object to moving the tribunal from Baghdad to southern Iraq or his northern Kurdish region if the judges sought such a change on security grounds, presidential secretary Hewah Othman said. But any transfer is dependent on parliamentary approval.
Elsewhere, gunmen firing from cars terrorised the western Baghdad neighbourhood of al-Baiyaa yesterday, slaying a police lieutenant driving to work before three more men – including an auto mechanic and his son – were gunned down in the same area.
Earlier in the day, the bullet-riddled bodies of an army battalion commander and his brother were also found in al-Baiyaa. Col. Hussein Shiaa and his brother were abducted on Sunday after leaving their base in Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad.
Police found four bound and blindfolded bodies each shot in the back of the head and dumped in a Baghdad sewer, police said. It was unclear exactly when the four were killed.