Tuesday, November 16, 2004

BAGHDAD — Diplomats and relatives of British relief worker Margaret Hassan said they believed Mrs. Hassan was the victim in a videotape that emerged yesterday showing a hooded gunman shooting a woman in the head.

If her identity is confirmed, Mrs. Hassan, Iraq’s director for CARE International who was seized in Baghdad last month, would be the first female foreign hostage to be killed by terrorists in Iraq.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s spokesman said: “The prime minister sends his sympathy to the family of Margaret Hassan and shares their abhorrence at the cruel treatment of someone who devoted so many years to help the people of Iraq.”

Irish President Mary McAleese said: “It is a cruel irony that Margaret’s captors did not show to her the same humanity and kindness which she demonstrated daily to those around her.” Mrs. Hassan was born in Dublin.

Her Iraqi husband, Tahsin Hassan, yesterday appealed to his wife’s kidnappers to hand over her body.

“I want to know if she is alive or dead. If she’s dead, I want to know where she is so I can bury her in peace,” he said. “Margaret lived with me for more than 30 years in Iraq and dedicated her life to serving the Iraqi people.”

A spokesman for Al Jazeera told the Associated Press that the satellite television station received the video several days ago and had invited British diplomats to view it.

The video shows a hooded militant firing a pistol into the head of a blindfolded woman wearing an orange jumpsuit, said the spokesman, Jihad Ballout.

Mr. Ballout said the station would not air the video and would no longer broadcast any killings other than acts of war.

Mrs. Hassan’s captors had demanded that British troops leave Iraq. Last month, the terrorist group led by al Qaeda ally Abu Musab Zarqawi beheaded British hostage Kenneth Bigley after their demands that all Iraqi women be released from jail were not met. The group also killed two Americans seized with Mr. Bigley.

More than 120 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq since April and more than three dozen have been killed.

The kidnapping crisis has added to the problems facing the interim Iraqi government and the U.S.-led force in Iraq as they try to crush insurgents and rebuild the country.

U.S. and Iraqi forces staged an offensive in Mosul yesterday to retake control of rebel-held areas after a week of anarchy in Iraq’s third-largest city.

“Offensive operations have begun on the western side of the river to clear out final pockets of insurgent fighting,” said Capt. Angela Bowman, spokeswoman for U.S. forces in the north.

“It’s a significant operation to secure police stations in the area and make sure they can be put to use again.”

While U.S. forces have focused large numbers on an offensive in the city of Fallujah for the past eight days, insurgents have struck in Mosul and elsewhere in Sunni Muslim areas north of Baghdad. The U.S. military says it has taken control of Fallujah, west of the capital, but scattered resistance remains.

Kassim Daoud, Iraq’s minister of state for national security, said more than 1,600 insurgents had been killed in Fallujah and 1,052 captured. That estimate is substantially higher than Pentagon estimates, which stand at 1,200 dead.

One Marine was killed yesterday in a suicide car bomb attack in Fallujah, a Marine officer said. At least 39 U.S. troops have been killed since the start of the Fallujah offensive.

Near Balad, north of Baghdad, an attack on a convoy killed one U.S. soldier and wounded another, the military said.

U.S. and Iraqi forces met little resistance in the early stages of the Mosul operation; however, a 4 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew would remain in place and the five bridges over the Tigris River in the city were closed, Capt. Bowman said.

Last week, scores of guerrillas seized control of parts of the city, attacking police stations and looting them of weapons.

A few hundred U.S. troops, backed by Iraqi national guardsmen and Iraqi police special commandos were involved in yesterday’s operation, which would continue until all police stations were secure and insurgents defeated, Capt. Bowman said.

Iraq’s government has repeatedly said that civilian casualties in Fallujah have been minimal, and that reports from aid agencies of a humanitarian crisis in the city have been exaggerated.

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