Baghdad, Iraq As a deadline neared for hostage and American journalist Jill Carroll, Muslim leaders and her pleading mother appealed Thursday to kidnappers to spare her life and set her free.
Referring to demands from Carroll's abductors that Iraqi women be released from U.S. custody, a senior Iraqi official said six jailed Iraqi women were due to be freed by the U.S. military.
But the White House said no prisoner release appeared imminent, and a major Sunni Arab clerical group said it could do little to help because it did not know who was holding the 28-year-old reporter.
The kidnappers - identified as the previously unknown "Revenge Brigade" - have set a deadline of this evening for all Iraqi female detainees to be freed or they will kill Carroll. However, Iraqi kidnappers have often given such ultimatums only to ignore them and continue holding captives.
Kidnappers of Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, seized last February in Baghdad, gave Italy 72 hours to withdraw its troops from Iraq. The Italians did not comply and Sgrena was released a month later.
New images showing Carroll surrounded by three armed and masked gunmen were aired Thursday by Al-Jazeera television. The 20 seconds of silent footage were from the same tape as excerpts broadcast Tuesday announcing the 72-hour deadline.
Carroll's mother said the video images gave her hope her daughter is alive but also have "shaken us about her fate."
"I, her father and her sister are appealing directly to her captors to release this young woman who has worked so hard to show the sufferings of Iraqis to the world," Mary Beth Carroll said on CNN's "American Morning."
Iraq's deputy justice minister, Busho Ibrahim Ali, said six of the eight Iraqi women in custody are expected to be freed next week, but he stressed that any release would "not be part of any swap with any kidnappers."
Speculation that the Iraqi women might soon be freed raised hopes for the release of Carroll, a freelance journalist who was working for the Christian Science Monitor when she was seized Jan. 7 in Baghdad. Her translator was killed.
U.S. military officials repeatedly refused Thursday to confirm whether any release was imminent.
Carroll grew up in Ann Arbor, Mich., and received an undergraduate degree in journalism in 1999 from the University of Massachusetts.