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British hostage pleads for life on video

Engineer asks Prime Minister Tony Blair for help

British hostage Kenneth Bigley on Wednesday appeared in video on an Islamist Web site.
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Facing a death threat from his Iraqi captors, British hostage Kenneth Bigley appeared in a video on an Islamist Web site Wednesday and tearfully pleaded to British Prime Minister Tony Blair to help spare his life, saying, "Please, please help me."

"I think this is possibly my last chance to speak to somebody who will listen," Bigley, 62, said in the 11-minute video.

"I don't want to die here. I need you to help me, Mr. Blair, because you are the only person now on God's earth that I can speak to."

Bigley and two Americans -- Eugene Armstrong and Jack Hensley -- were kidnapped September 16.

Armstrong and Hensley were beheaded within 24 hours of each other Monday and Tuesday by militants claiming to be loyal to Jordanian-born terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Following the deaths of the Americans, the militants threatened to kill Bigley in the same way if their demands for the release of Iraqi women prisoners were not met. (Full story)

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on Wednesday said his heart went out to Bigley and his family, but he reiterated that the government would not negotiate with terrorists.

"We can't get into a situation of bargaining with terrorists because this would put many more people's lives at risk, not only in Iraq but around the world," Straw said during a visit to the United Nations.

"The only people who can release Mr. Bigley are the terrorists who have captured Mr. Bigley, these evil men who are perpetrating this evil," Straw said.

Wednesday's video began with the Islamic music typically used by the Unification and Jihad group.

It then showed a picture of Bigley standing by a tank, and followed that with his plea.

Bigley, wearing an orange jumpsuit, was sitting down in front of a flag bearing the Arabic name of the Unification and Jihad group and the message "In the name of God, the Merciful."

At times, the video zoomed in on Bigley's hands, which he clasped together as he spoke.

A few minutes into the video, Bigley broke down in sobs as he talked about his family.

To Blair, he said, "I need you to be compassionate as you've always said you were and help me, help me live so that I can see my wife and son."

He said the Iraqi people have suffered greatly and that his captors aren't "asking for the world."

"Please, please release the female prisoners that are held in Iraqi prisons."

At the end of the video, the screen goes dark and a message in a white font says, "Do leaders really care about these people?"

The Bigley family released a televised statement Wednesday to the kidnappers in response to the video.

It was read by Bigley's son, Craig, and he was joined by Bigley's oldest and youngest brother, Stan and Phil Bigley.

"We have seen and heard Ken's pleas. Thank you for letting Ken make his appeal," Craig Bigley said.

"All of the family are very grateful to you for his message. They wish you to say to Ken that they love him dearly and are waiting for him to come home soon.

"We have heard what you say and want to continue to listen to you. You have proved to the world that you are committed and determined. Be merciful as we know you can be.

"Release Ken back to his wife and family. We ask you, as a family, to be all merciful."

Bigley's family has chastised Blair for not doing enough to secure the release of the engineer.

Blair took the unusual step of phoning Bigley's family Tuesday.

British government officials said they were using all possible channels to secure the 62-year-old engineer's release.

Bigley's family has criticized Blair's policy in Iraq. His brother, Paul, called the war unfounded and stupid.

U.S. and Iraqi officials have said there are no women in Iraqi prisons, but two "high value" women -- including a female scientist known as "Dr. Germ" -- were being held at undisclosed locations.

Conflicting accounts about the possible release of Iraqi of those women were issued by the U.S. and Iraqi governments Wednesday.

Iraq's interim national security adviser, Kasim Daoud, told reporters that three detainees -- including Dr. Rihab Rashid Taha al-Azawi (Dr. Germ) and her husband, the country's former oil minister -- would be released soon because no charges were being brought against them.

Daoud's statement was contradicted by Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who is in New York for the U.N. General Assembly session.

Allawi told The Associated Press that he has the final say on the release of detainees and he had not made a decision. (Full story)

Straw said he had spoken by phone with Allawi who told him that Iraqi judicial authorities were already in the process of reviewing the women's release well before the kidnappers' demands.

Allawi told straw he could decide to release the women on his return to Baghdad.

"What I said to him was from the British government's point of view we were neither seeking the acceleration of these women's release, if that was in the pipeline, nor their delay," he said.

The release of the video of Bigley has put the "most appalling burden upon the family," Straw said, adding that "hopes rationally should not be raised given the appalling track record of these particular terrorists."

He said he has spoken to the family previously about why the government does not negotiate with terrorists and would do so again.

"It's not because we are being standoffish or just following a policy," he said.

"It is because we know from decades of experience the moment you start bargaining with kidnappers like this you don't save people's lives, you result in more people -- many more people -- getting captured and then killed."

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