Al-Sadr Aides Appeal To Kidnappers

Western journalist Micah Garen is seen at an undisclosed location in an undated photo provided to the Associated Press in Baghdad, Iraq, Monday Aug. 16, 2004. Garen and his Iraqi translator were kidnapped by armed men in a busy market in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah, according to the police. AP

Saying their rebel Shiite cleric opposes abductions, top aides to Muqtada al-Sadr appealed to kidnappers to free a Western journalist they are threatening to kill unless U.S. forces withdraw from the Shiite Muslim holy city of Najaf.

The pan-Arab television station Al-Jazeera reported Thursday that a militant group calling itself the Martyrs Brigade had abducted U.S. journalist Micah Garen and would kill him within 48 hours if their demands were not met.

Garen, of New York, was working on a story about the looting of archaeological sites in Iraq when he was abducted, said his fiancee, Marie-Helene Carleton.

Witnesses said Garen and his Iraqi translator, Amir Doushi, were seized by two armed men in civilian clothes when the New Yorker was walking through a market in the southern city of Nasiriyah on Aug. 13, police said.

Sheik Aws al-Khafaji, a top aide to al-Sadr - whose rebel Mahdi army has been fighting coalition forces in Najaf for two weeks - said the militia is against kidnapping, "especially this journalist who rendered Nasiriyah great service."

"We call upon the kidnappers to set him free and tried many times to contact many groups to help us find out about his condition," al-Khafaji said in Nasiriyah. "Since the day he was kidnapped, we have been calling upon the kidnappers, through mosque prayers, to free him."

Another al-Sadr aide in the southern city of Basra, Sheikh Asaad al-Basri, also condemned Garen's abduction. He said al-Sadr officials were trying to reach the kidnappers "so that we could mediate to free him."

In a video, a man resembling the 36-year-old Garen kneels in front of five masked militants armed with rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. The hostage looked down at the ground throughout the videotape, the authenticity of which could not be determined.

The sound on the video was inaudible, but the news announcer said the kidnappers threatened to kill Garen within two days if U.S. forces did not leave Najaf.

Garen's sister Eva also appealed to the kidnappers in a phone interview with Al-Jazeera on Thursday, saying that she hoped they would free her brother after hearing the request from al-Sadr's aides.

British journalist James Brandon was kidnapped and similarly threatened with death last week, but freed the next day after a public appeal by al-Sadr's aides, including al-Khafaji.

But on Thursday, a Turkish company announced it was withdrawing its employees from Iraq in an effort to save the life of a worker taken hostage by Iraqi militants. Turkish media said the kidnappers have threatened to kill the hostage if the company didn't leave within three days.

The decision came only weeks after another Turkish worker, Murat Yuce, who worked for a sister company, was shot three times in the head by al-Qaida linked militants loyal to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Militants have repeatedly warned companies to stay out of Iraq or risk the capture and killing of their workers.

In Turkey, private NTV television broadcast excerpts of a video showing Gezmen. The station said he pleaded for help from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and begged his family to ask the companies to withdraw.

Garen works for Four Corners Media, identified on its Web site as a "documentary organization working in still photography, video and print media."

He has taken photographs as a stringer for The Associated Press and had a story published in The New York Times. His photographs also have appeared in U.S. News & World Report.

  • Lauren Johnston

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