Falluja insurgents say not holding Hassan

FALLUJA, Iraq (Reuters) – Insurgent commanders in the Iraqi city of Falluja say they are not holding hostage Margaret Hassan, an aide worker who holds British and Iraqi citizenship, and condemned her kidnapping.

“This woman works for a humanitarian organisation. She should not have been kidnapped,” the emir, or commander, of one group of Iraqi insurgents in the town, said on Sunday.

Many of the scores of kidnappings in Iraq since April have taken place around Falluja, a fiercely anti-American guerrilla stronghold 50 km (30 miles) west of Baghdad.

The U.S. military and Iraqi government officials say Falluja is a base for foreign militants loyal to declared al Qaeda ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian whose group has claimed responsibility for kidnappings and suicide bombings.

Commanders of five separate guerrilla groups interviewed in Falluja said they were not holding Hassan and had seen no evidence that Zarqawi’s organisation had kidnapped her.

Zarqawi’s Tawhid wal Jihad (One God and Holy War) group claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and beheading of two Americans and a Briton seized in Baghdad last month.

Hassan, who holds Irish, British and Iraqi citizenship, was seized on Tuesday. She appeared on a video on Arabic Al Jazeera television on Friday making a tearful plea for her life.

Hassan was sitting in a white room with no indication of which group was holding her.

Criminals sometimes take hostages in Iraq for ransom, or sell them to militant groups.

One guerrilla commander in Falluja said he believed Hassan may have been the victim of a criminal kidnapping.

“She had been living in Iraq for 30 years and she was a humanitarian. The resistance did not kidnap her because this would have left a bad impression of the resistance in the world,” said the commander, who asked not to be named.

Hassan was seized from her car on her way to work by gunmen said by her husband to have included one in police uniform.

She was the eighth foreign woman to have been kidnapped in Iraq in the last six months. The others, including two Italian aid workers held for three weeks in September, have been freed.

A Falluja guerrilla commander said he did not see a political motive for abducting Hassan, who had worked in Iraq for the aid agency Care International since the early 1990s.

“If she was suspect, Saddam Hussein’s intelligence agents would have found out a long time ago,” he said.

Also see:
Is the Kidnapping of CARE’s Margaret Hassan a CIA-Mossad Op?