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Hostage's brother accuses U.S.

Briton begs Blair: 'Please, please help me'

British hostage Kenneth Bigley on Wednesday appeared in video on an Islamist Web site.
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- The brother of British hostage Kenneth Bigley, threatened with death by militants in Iraq, has accused the U.S. government of "sabotaging" moves to free him.

The criticism Thursday came a day after Bigley appeared in a video on an Islamist Web site tearfully begging UK Prime Minister Tony Blair to help spare his life, saying: "Please, please help me."

Bigley's elderly mother made an emotional appeal for his kidnappers to "show mercy."

Lil Bigley, 86, begged for her son's release just an hour after Blair telephoned Bigley's Liverpool family for a second time.

"Would you please help my son? He is only a working man who wants to support his family. Please show mercy to Ken and send him home to me alive. His family needs him. I need him."

Bigley's wife, who lives in Thailand, also begged the captors to release her husband.

"My husband, Ken, is an ordinary, hardworking family man who wanted to help the people of Iraq amongst whom he has made many friends," Sombat Bigley said, according to a translation from The Associated Press.

"As a loving wife, I beg you once more for mercy."

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. (Full story)

Bigley's captors said he would face the same fate unless the British government met their demand to release Muslim women from Iraqi prisons.

U.S. officials said the only women currently held in Iraq are the two "high-value detainees" at Camp Cropper near Baghdad airport, according to Iraqi sources.

The interim Iraqi government on Thursday reiterated it had no imminent plans to release any detainees -- as have Washington officials.

Alberto Fernandez, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, said the release of the two female detainees is not pending, despite earlier reports that Dr. Rihab Rashid Taha al-Azawi, known as "Dr. Germ," may be conditionally released.

The other female detainee is Dr. Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash, known as "Mrs. Anthrax," number 53 of Washington's 55 most wanted Iraqis.

Kenneth Bigley's brother Paul said the initial report that the prisoners would be released was "a shadow of light in a big, long, dark, damp, filthy, cold tunnel."

"Now this has been sabotaged," Paul Bigley told BBC radio on Thursday.

"Is this a puppet government or the Americans moving the goalposts to suit their own aims again? What is going on here?

"Leave the Iraqis to do their own Iraqi business."

In an 11-minute video, Kenneth Bigley, 62, said: "I think this is possibly my last chance to speak to somebody who will listen. (Full story)

"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."

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.

Since April, militant groups in Iraq have seized more than 100 hostages. Most have been released but about 30 have been killed.

Among those still believed to be held are two French journalists and two female Italian aid workers captured last month.

The Italian government on Thursday urged caution on reports that the two Italian women had been killed, saying the claims are "unreliable" and part of a terror campaign being carried out through the media.

"We, therefore, urge the maximum caution, care and responsibility," the office of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said in a news release.

Simona Torretta and Simona Pari, both age 29, were working for a humanitarian group called Bridge to Baghdad when their office was raided by insurgents more than two weeks ago and they were taken hostage, police said.

An Islamic Web site, that has proven to be unreliable in the past, first posted a claim from an unknown group late Wednesday that the women had been killed.

Then, on Thursday, another group claimed to have killed the women, in a message that was posted on multiple Islamic Web sites that have been used by Iraqi terrorists in the past.

The group -- calling itself the Al-Zawahiri Supporters Group, named after Osama bin Laden's No. 2 man, Ayman al-Zawahiri -- claimed the women worked for Italian intelligence and were killed because Italy refused to withdraw its 2,700 troops from Iraq.

"We decided to behead the spy Italians," the message said, adding it hopes to soon show video of the killings.

This group was also one of a couple groups that initially claimed to have taken the women captive on September 7. In the past, it has claimed responsibility for attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and claimed responsibility for participating in bombings of embassies in Iraq.

CNN has been unable to verify the claims made concerning the two Italian women.

Meanwhile in Bigley's home town of Liverpool, Muslim and Christian religious leaders on Thursday appealed for his release. (Full story)

"In the name of God, the merciful one, we as Muslim and Christian leaders in Liverpool appeal to you as believers to have mercy on Kenneth Bigley," said Akbar Ali, the chairman of Liverpool Mosque and Islamic Institute.

Joining Ali at the news conference was James Jones, Liverpool's Anglican bishop.

"We're appealing to them on the grounds of their own faith and their own faith in the God of mercy to be merciful, to have compassion in this situation and to release Mr. Bigley," Jones said.

Cherie Blair, wife of the prime minister, also addressed the crisis, saying, "Like the rest of Britain, my heart goes out to the Bigley family."

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