BAGHDAD, (AP) – A deal has been reached with kidnappers for the release of two CBS journalists, radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s office in Basra said Wednesday.
Harith al-Ethari, a director of al-Sadr’s office in the southern Iraqi city, said negotiations had persuaded the kidnappers to release the British journalist and his Iraqi interpreter later Wednesday.
“We reached an agreement with kidnappers to hand over the Iraqi interpreter to the police command in Basra and the British journalist will be handed over to al-Sadr’s office in Basra this afternoon,” al-Ethari told The Associated Press. He did not give a specific time.
Iraqi police and witnesses said the two were seized Sunday from a hotel in Basra, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad.
CBS News said Monday that two journalists working for it were missing in Basra, but it did not identify them and has requested their names not be released if obtained.
Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, has seen fierce fighting between rival Shiite militias as part of a power struggle in the oil-rich south.
Al-Ethari did not identify the kidnappers but said Sadrist mediators had persuaded the kidnappers to drop their demands and release the hostages. He refused to list the original demands ahead of the release.
Earlier, an Iraqi police official in Basra familiar with the negotiations said talks had started at 3 p.m. Tuesday and continued until midnight, then resumed three hours later.
Kidnappings of Westerners and Iraqis — for political motives or ransom — were common in the past but have become infrequent recently with a decline in violence.
Since 2004, three journalists — Fakher Haider of The New York Times, as well as James Brandon of Britain and New York freelancer Steven Vincent — have been abducted in Basra, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Brandon was released, but Vincent and Haider were murdered, it said.
According to CPJ, at least 51 journalists have been abducted in Iraq since 2004. The New York-based group said the majority was released, but 12 were killed.