Belfast Telegraph

Harrowing footage shows Hassan pleading for her life

By Kim Sengupta in Baghdad
23 October 2004

Margaret Hassan, the kidnapped British aid worker, appeared in a new and harrowing video yesterday, weeping and asking Tony Blair to save her life by halting the deployment of British troops from southern Iraq alongside American forces.

Her distraught husband said afterwards that the Prime Minister "will have her death on his hands" if she is murdered. Tahseen Ali Hassan, who stressed that his wife considered herself an Iraqi, has been deeply concerned by the British government repeatedly stating it was trying to secure her release.

He said: "Margaret is now paying the price. Once they started talking in London about how they were going to rescue her, the kidnappers knew they could use her to apply pressure. I hold Tony Blair responsible for what is happening now. He used her kidnapping for propaganda. He can now cancel sending these troops, but is he going to?"

Mrs Hassan was seen begging to be spared the fate of Kenneth Bigley, the British hostage who was beheaded. The timing of the release of the video was undoubtedly calculated by Mrs Hassan's captors to gain maximum exposure in the Western media. It comes the day after the Government agreed to a request from the US to deploy 850 troops south-west of Baghdad.

Mrs Hassan looked terrified and often broke down in tears as she spoke. "Please help me, please help me. This might be my last hours," she said in a faltering voice. "Please help me. Please, the British people, ask Tony Blair to take the troops out of Iraq, and not to bring them to Baghdad. That's why people like Mr Bigley and myself are being caught, and maybe we will die like Mr Bigley.Please, please, I beg you."

Mrs Hassan's friends and colleagues initially thought she might have been kidnapped by a commercial gang, and that she would gain her freedom after the discreet payment of a ransom. There are now fears that she may have fallen into the hands of an extremist Sunni group, possibly with links to the Jordanian militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Mrs Hassan, who has Irish, Iraqi and British citizenship, was born in Dublin. She has lived in Iraq for 30 years, and was the country director for Care International. The charity, which stayed in Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War during the 1980s and the two Gulf wars, has suspended operations.

Last night her husband, a retired economist, said: "I now have nothing but the worst fears. I have been telling myself that they will not kill a woman, but I am no longer sure. I am so afraid, and I am so sad.

"I feel very angry about Tony Blair. Margaret and I have tried to make sure even before the kidnapping that she was not considered British because there is so much hatred against America and Britainover here because of the invasion."

Colonel Tim Collins, who came to prominence with a rousing speech on the eve of the Iraq war, meanwhile said that the Black Watch should not be sent to help the US, but be back home training other units. "They are about to embark and they are on their third term of duty in 18 months and that is overstretch by any definition."

Asked if the Black Watch could expect to be home by Christmas, as Mr Blair promised, Col Collins said: "It will all be over by Christmas has a certain echo to it. Putting timescales on military operations is not a sensible thing to do; it is disingenuous. These things take as long as they take."

Broadcasters divided over use of video

The latest harrowing video footage of the hostage victim Margaret Hassan has divided opinion among British broadcasters over whether screening of the images plays into the hands of the kidnappers.

Executives at the BBC made the decision not to broadcast the video, showing only stills from it on the Six O'clock News. Roger Mosey, head of television news, said: "Her distress is so obvious, it's awful to watch and we didn't think there was any merit in showing it."

However, Sky News and ITV News took a different view, with both opting to screen the less harrowing parts of the video. David Mannion, editor in chief of ITV news, said: "We always place them in context and we run only the minimum required to convey the necessary information."

A spokeswoman for Sky News said: "We are acutely aware that there is a delicate line to be trod between censorship and giving air-time to terrorist propaganda."

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