BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – A top Sunni politician appealed Friday for the release of an American female journalist and urged U.S. and Iraqi forces to stop arresting Iraqi women as a deadline set by the reporter’s kidnappers was set to elapse.
The kidnappers had threatened to kill 28-year-old Jill Carroll unless all female detainees are freed by Friday. No hour was specified, and there was no indication Friday that any prisoners had been released.
In a statement aired Friday by two major Arab television stations Carroll’s father, Jim, described his daughter as “an innocent woman” and told the captors that sparing her life would “serve your cause more than her death.”
A U.S. Embassy official said he was unaware of any contacts between a high-level hostage release team and the kidnappers. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case, said U.S. authorities were meeting with various figures including political leaders, particularly from the Sunni Arab community, who may have links to the kidnappers.
Carroll, a freelancer for the Christian Science Monitor, was abducted Jan. 7 near the office of prominent Sunni Arab politician Adnan al-Dulaimi, whom she was going to interview. Her translator was killed. On Friday, al-Dulaimi promised to work for the release of all women prisoners but warned that failure to set Carroll free would “undermine and hamper my efforts.”
“We are against violence by any group, and we call the government and U.S. forces to stop raiding houses, arresting women,” al-Dulaimi said in a statement. “I call upon the kidnappers to immediately release this reporter who came here to cover Iraq’s news and defending our rights.”
He urged militants to protect journalists “regardless of their nationality. This act has hurt me and makes me sad because the journalist was trying to meet me when she was kidnapped,” he added. “After she left my office because she was unable to meet me, she was kidnapped 300 meters from my office.”
U.S. authorities have confirmed they are holding eight Iraqi women, and the Iraqi Justice Ministry has called for six of them to be set free. It was unclear how many women may be in Iraqi custody.
The Friday deadline was set in a tape received Tuesday by Al-Jazeera television from the previously unknown group called “Revenge Brigade.” However, Iraqi kidnappers have often given such ultimatums only to ignore them and continue holding captives.
Kidnappers of Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, seized in Baghdad last February, gave Italy 72 hours to withdraw its troops from Iraq. The Italians did not comply and Sgrena was released a month later unharmed.
A delegation from the Council on American-Islamic Relations flew to neighboring Jordan and planned to come to Baghdad to try to secure Carroll’s release. But the group was still in Jordan on Friday because it had not received guarantees of a safe escort from Baghdad airport into the city, the group’s executive director, Nadi Awad, told The Associated Press.
A spokesman for the Association of Muslim Scholars, a Sunni clerical group that has contacts with some insurgent groups, said the organization could do little because it did not know who was holding her. Foreign diplomats have often sought help from the group during previous abduction cases, although it has never advocated kidnappings nor acknowledged playing any role in securing releases.
Al-Jazeera has aired two segments of a silent video it received from the kidnappers showing Carroll in captivity. The first segment was broadcast Tuesday and a second part two days later.
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 told CNN’s “American Morning” on Thursday.
Carroll grew up in Ann Arbor, Mich., and received an undergraduate degree in journalism in 1999 from the University of Massachusetts. She worked as a reporting assistant for The Wall Street Journal before moving to Jordan and launching her freelance career in 2002, learning Arabic along the way.
The Monitor’s Washington bureau chief, David Cook, also urged her captors to contact the newspaper to discuss her release. Cook would not say specifically if the paper would pay ransom.
“I think our policy would be that we would welcome contact from the captors,” he told NBC. “Either the family or the Monitor would be eager to talk to the captors.”
More than 240 foreigners have been taken hostage in Iraq and at least 39 killed since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, more Iraqis have been abducted either by insurgents or gangs seeking ransoms.
According to figures compiled by the Washington-based Brookings Institution, there was an average of two kidnappings a day of Iraqis in Baghdad in January 2004 and 10 a day in December of that year. Last month, the think tank said kidnappings of Iraqis averaged 30 a day nationwide.