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Sunni Group Asks for Release of Hostages in Iraq


A Baghdad-based peace activist for a Western Christian organization whose members were abducted in Iraq says that his group still has not received any demands from the insurgents who claim to be holding four of his colleagues.

The activist, Greg Rollins, says that his group, Christian Peacemaker Teams, has received no word on the fate of two Canadians, a Briton, and an American kidnapped last Saturday in west Baghdad since the men appeared on television two days ago.

The Arabic-language television network al-Jazeera aired a video of the hostages, sitting cross-legged on the floor, flanked by masked gunmen. The network reported the video came from a previously unknown group calling itself the Swords of Righteousness Brigade.

The insurgent group says the Westerners are spies for the coalition, under the guise of working for a Christian humanitarian organization.

Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) says it is a volunteer organization based in Toronto, Canada and in Chicago in the United States. According to the group's brochure, CPT sends teams to crisis zones around the world to monitor elections, advocate for prisoners' rights, and conduct human rights activities.

In Baghdad, CPT activist Greg Rollins declined to meet VOA in person for security reasons. But in a telephone interview Thursday, he said that he wants to let the kidnappers know that they have made a huge mistake in assuming that Christian Peacemaker Teams workers are acting as spies.

"The truth is that the CPT is here in Iraq to help the Iraqi people and to stand up against the occupation of Iraq and expose what the occupation of Iraq is doing and has done," he said. "And I think if those who took our friends actually listened to them, they will hear that and hopefully they will believe them."

CPT has blamed the kidnappings on the actions of the United States and Britain, which it says illegally invaded Iraq and have oppressed the Iraqi people since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime nearly three years ago.

On Wednesday, an influential Baghdad-based Sunni Arab group, the Association of Muslim Scholars, called on the insurgent group to release the captives as a humanitarian gesture. The group, which is believed to have some ties to Iraq's Sunni-led, anti-coalition insurgency, says the hostages have a good record for helping those in need.

The Association of Muslim Scholars has also called on the Swords of Righteousness Brigade to release a German humanitarian worker who was kidnapped last Friday along with her Iraqi driver.

The worker, Susanne Osthoff, is the first German to be kidnapped in Iraq. On Wednesday, Germany's ambassador to Iraq is said to have met with Sunni religious leaders to enlist their help in securing Ms. Osthoff's release.

Meanwhile, Iraq's controversial Interior Minister Bayan Jabr has reportedly fired the ministry's chief inspector for corruption and human rights violations.

Iraqi officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, say the order for Nouri al-Nouri's dismissal Thursday came from Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

It is not known why Mr. Nouri was dismissed. But the inspector was quoted in a story by the Los Angeles Times newspaper Tuesday, in which he confirmed that forces within the Shi'ite-dominated interior ministry had formed death squads and were carrying out extrajudicial killings of Sunni Arabs.