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Kenyan Hostages' Families Ask Iraqi Kidnappers for Mercy - 2004-07-30


Distraught family members of three Kenyan truck drivers being held captive in Iraq have made an urgent appeal for their safe release. The appeal comes just hours before a deadline set by the kidnappers to behead an Indian hostage, who has been held with the Kenyans, an Egyptian and two other Indians since July 21.

The wives, several children and relatives of three Kenyan men abducted in Iraq were visibly distraught, as they made an urgent appeal for their release during a news conference in Nairobi on Friday.

The brother of hostage Jalal Awadh says he wants the kidnappers to know that all three truck drivers went to Kuwait only to seek work. Ahmed Kamal says he is certain that his brother and the others did not know that the Kuwaiti company that hired them would send them to Iraq to support American troops.

The firm, Kuwait and Gulf Link Transport Company, is believed to have several large contracts with U.S.-led forces.

"If we did something wrong, we want to be forgiven for that," he said.

Wide-eyed with fright, the wife of Kenyan hostage Salim Faiz Khamis could not hold back her emotions. She burst into tears, as she tried to plead for the life of her husband.

The three Kenyans are among seven men abducted last week by a little-known militant group calling itself The Holders of the Black Banners. All were truck drivers working for a transport company based in Kuwait.

The Iraqi hostagetakers had first threatened to start killing the hostages, one-by-one beginning Monday, if the company did not stop doing business in Iraq, and if the hostages' countries did not order all of their citizens to leave.

The militants extended the deadline, but issued more demands. They now say they want the hostages' Kuwaiti employer to pay compensation for those killed by U.S. troops in the city of Fallujah and the release of all Iraqi detainees in Iraq and Kuwait.

Earlier Friday, the chairman of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, Abdulghafur El-Busaidy, said the militants should not harm any of the Kenyans, whom he described as good and faithful Muslims.

"Our appeal is for the release of the hostages in the spirit of Islamic solidarity and brotherhood. To this end, we are filled with hope, optimism, and trust," he said.

In Baghdad, a powerful Iraqi tribal chief, acting as a mediator between Kuwait and Gulf Link Transport Company and the kidnappers, says he has been working closely with Indian and Egyptian diplomats in Baghdad to help free the captives.

But Sheik Hisham al-Dulaimi says he has yet to hear from the Kenyan government. Kenyan officials have so far declined to discuss publicly what measures they are taking toward winning the hostages' release.

Kenya is a key U.S. ally in East Africa. But the country opposed the war in Iraq, and has not sent troops to support the multinational forces there.

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