The Kenyan government has urged all of its citizens to leave Iraq after confirming that militants are holding three Kenyan contract workers captive. The militants have threatened to behead them, along with three Indians and an Egyptian, unless their Kuwaiti employer pulls out of Iraq. Shocked Kenyans are demanding a quick and safe end to the hostage crisis.
A spokesman for the Kenyan government, Alfred Mutua, says officials have positively identified the three truck drivers being held captive and are now informing their families. Mr. Mutua says the three are from the coastal area of Kenya and have been working in Iraq for a transport company based in Kuwait.
During a news conference late Thursday, he pleaded with the kidnappers to release the hostages safely.
"We assure them that Kenya has no intention of interfering with the lives of the Iraqi people and that we are discouraging our citizens from engaging in work that takes them to Iraq. We urge all Kenyans that may be in Iraq to leave at once," he said.
Kenya has no military troops or official business in Iraq. But the government acknowledges that many of its citizens are working there as drivers and contractors for companies based in Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
The brother of one of the Kenyan hostages tells VOA that 40-year-old Ibrahim Khamis went to Iraq eight months ago to earn enough money to support his four children. The brother, Idi Hamisi Mambo, appealed to the kidnappers to show mercy.
"My brother is a Muslim and he is a strong believer. He is very innocent. He just went there to earn a living just like anybody would go to a foreign country to work," he said.
Meanwhile, many people in Nairobi expressed deep concern Thursday about the fate of the Kenyan hostages. They say they are shocked that insurgents are threatening to harm citizens of a country with no ties to the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq.
A local political activist Orie Rogo Manduli warns the Kenyan people will be watching the government closely to see how it handles the crisis.
"I am extremely unhappy that somebody did not foresee this as something that was going to happen," he said. "What I want is our minister of foreign affairs to successfully negotiate for the safe return of each Kenyan there. If even a drop of Kenyan blood is shed in Iraq, then the government of this country will have to answer to the people of Kenya."
In a video footage shown Wednesday on the Arabic-language television channel Al-Arabiya, an Egyptian hostage pleaded with his Kuwaiti company to leave Iraq.
The kidnappers, who identify themselves as members of an obscure group called Black Flags, have threatened to behead one hostage every 72 hours if companies or the countries the seven men are affiliated with do not withdraw their personnel.
The countdown to the deadline began at 8:00 p.m. Wednesday, Baghdad time.
On Monday, another Egyptian hostage was freed after his Saudi employer promised to stop doing business in Iraq.