Archive for Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Director of CARE abducted in Baghdad

Humanitarian leader most high-profile figure to be kidnapped

October 20, 2004

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— Gunmen seized the head of CARE International's operations in Iraq -- a woman who has worked on behalf of Iraqis for three decades.

Early today, CARE Australia, which coordinates the international agency's Iraq operations, announced it had suspended operations because of the abduction, but it said staff would not be evacuated.

Elsewhere Tuesday, a mortar attack killed at least four Iraqi National Guard soldiers and wounded 80 at a base north of Baghdad. An American contractor also died when mortar shells crashed onto a U.S. base in the Iraqi capital. And three car bombs exploded in the northern city of Mosul, killing two Iraqi civilians and wounding three.

Margaret Hassan, who holds British, Irish and Iraqi citizenships and is married to an Iraqi, is among the most widely known humanitarian officials in the Middle East. She is also the most high-profile figure to fall victim to a wave of kidnappings sweeping Iraq in recent months.

The Arab television station Al-Jazeera broadcast a brief video showing Hassan, wearing a white blouse and appearing tense, sitting in a room with bare white walls. An editor at the station, based in Qatar, said the tape contained no audio. It did not identify what group was holding her and contained no demand for her release.

Hassan, who is in her early 60s, was kidnapped about 7:30 a.m. while being driven from her home to CARE's office in a western neighborhood of the capital, a CARE employee said. The employee said the group did not employ armed guards.

In an interview with Al-Jazeera, Hassan's husband, Tahseen Ali Hassan, said his wife had not received threats and that the kidnappers had not contacted anyone with any demands. "Nothing like this happened before, because CARE is a humanitarian organization, and she has served the Iraqi people for 30 years," he said.

Hassan has lived in Baghdad for 30 years, helping supply medicines and other humanitarian aid and speaking out about Iraqis' suffering under international sanctions during the 1990s.

The kidnapping was the latest attack against humanitarian organizations, many of which have curtailed operations and withdrawn staff because of the violence in Iraq. It also follows a wave of abductions targeting foreigners in the heart of the capital.

Although militants have kidnapped at least seven other women over the past six months, all were later released. By contrast, at least 30 male hostages have been killed, including three Americans beheaded by their captors.

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