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Hostage agony takes toll on family

Briton's mother admitted to hospital

British hostage Kenneth Bigley on Wednesday appeared in video on an Islamist Web site.
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Bigley's family continues to plead for his safe return. CNN's Diana Muriel reports

Bigley urges Blair to save his life. CNN's Robin Oakley reports

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Desperate but unanswered pleas to release a British hostage threatened with death in Iraq have taken their toll on his family and put pressure on UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Kenneth Bigley's mother Lil, who made a televised appeal for his kidnappers to "show mercy," was taken to hospital shortly afterwards in the northern English city of Liverpool feeling "unwell," police said. It was unclear precisely what she was treated for.

The 86-year-old later returned home and was on Friday awaiting news from Iraq with relatives. "The strain of the emotional plea took its toll," CNN's Robyn Curnow from Liverpool.

Bigley himself has appeared in a video on an Islamist Web site tearfully begging Blair to help spare his life, saying: "Please, please help me."

Meanwhile in Baghdad on Friday, the British Embassy distributed 50,000 leaflets carrying a message from Bigley's family pleading with residents to help find the man, the Foreign Office said.

The crisis has put the UK government in a tough position, Curnow said. Blair, who has faced personal criticism by Bigley's family for failing to free him, refuses to negotiate with terrorists but says he is deeply concerned for the family.

"He has a difficult job trying to balance this," Curnow said, adding that Blair had twice telephoned the family to offer his sympathy.

Some analysts say the prime minister could face a backlash if Bigley is killed and Blair is perceived to have not done enough.

Blair also faces his Labour Party's annual conference in Brighton next week where he is expected to hear anger from left-leaning opponents of the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

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.

Bigley's son, brothers and wife, who lives in Thailand, also begged the captors to release him.

"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."

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. (Full story)

"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."

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

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."

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 10 Turkish truck drivers, two French journalists and two female Italian aid workers captured last month. Two Egyptian engineers were also kidnapped on Thursday night.

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