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Blair vows response on hostage

Bigley is seen behind bars in the video broadcast Wednesday.
Great Britain
Tony Blair

BRIGHTON, England (CNN) -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair has vowed that if the kidnappers of countryman Kenneth Bigley contact a British official, "we'd respond to it immediately."

His comments came as an Arabic-language news channel broadcast video of Bigley urging Blair to work for his release.

The footage aired on Al-Jazeera Wednesday showed Bigley caged behind bars in what appears to be a cramped prison cell.

Dressed in a shiny orange jump suit and shackled in chains, the 62-year-old engineer is crouched on the floor and sobs intermittently as he tearfully and repeatedly begs for his life and for the British government to help him.

Blair says Bigley's abductors have made no attempt to contact the British government.

"If they did make contact, it would be something we would immediately respond to," Blair said Wednesday.

Blair said earlier his government would never negotiate with terrorists, although he said Britain is doing everything possible to secure the release of Bigley, who was kidnapped from his Baghdad home September 16 with two Americans. The Americans have been beheaded.

Blair addressed members of the Muslim Council of Britain at the annual conference of the ruling Labour Party Wednesday. The party was discussing the plight of Bigley, as well as measures to expand religious anti-discrimination laws to Muslims.

"Were doing everything we can," Blair told reporters. "We can't make contact with them. They've made no attempt to contact us. ...

"I feel desperately sorry for the family."

The Unification and Jihad group, led by al Qaeda militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has claimed responsibility for the kidnappings of Bigley and the two Americans.

As Bigley spoke, the logo and symbol of Unification and Jihad spun around in the upper left corner of the tape.

Bigley is heard urging Blair to work toward meeting the abductors' demand of releasing all female prisoners in Iraq so he can be freed.

He said Britain can help, observing Britain did not need any permission to enter Iraq and doesn't need any permission to free him.

But he said there was no negotiation to save his life or any involving females in Iraqi prisons, and he rued that state of affairs.

Bigley said his captors want the women freed from prison and do not want to kill him, which he said could have been done as long as three weeks ago.

He and two Americans -- Eugene Armstrong and Jack Hensley -- were kidnapped from a Baghdad villa September 16. Both men were later killed.

Noting that Blair said he would not negotiate with terrorists, Bigley countered that the French had entered into talks to free hostages.

A delegation from the Muslim Council of Britian went to Baghdad last weekend to press for the release of the 62-year-old man. They did not meet with the kidnappers, but with political, religious and civic leaders who issued appeals on radio and in newspapers.

Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat also has begged the kidnappers to free Bigley.

Bigley's captors are demanding that Muslim women being held in Iraqi prisons be freed. U.S. and Iraqi authorities have said there are no women in Iraqi prisons, but two "high value" female detainees are being held in an undisclosed location.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw also said Britain is doing all it can to secure Bigley's release.

In an interview with ITN, Paul Bigley, brother of the hostage, was asked about the video. "I think Ken has developed a rapport with his captors," he said.

"Ken was speaking, even though he looks as rough as I don't know what. He has his faculties. I know his body language all too well, and he's talking quite freely. He is not being told what to say."

Asked about the conditions under which his brother is being held, Paul Bigley called them "absolutely barbaric."

'Great strain'

Blair says his government is trying to contact Bigley's kidnappers.

Bigley's son Craig and brother Philip issued a statement Wednesday reacting to the latest video.

The statement thanked the abductors for the "opportunity to see him alive again" and asked them to "please pass on once more our love and thoughts to him."

The statement was read by Craig with Philip by his side. Craig said the ordeal was putting "great strain" on Ken's mother.

"My dad, Ken Bigley, is an elderly man who is only a few weeks from retirement -- and from becoming a grandfather for the first time," Craig said.

"We, as a family, feel that the ultimate decision to release him rests with you, the people who are holding him. We once again ask you, please show mercy to my father and release him."

Tuesday's release of two Italian female aid workers held hostage in Iraq also raised the Bigley family's hopes. "We are all heartened by this," Paul Bigley told The Times newspaper. "I am overjoyed for their families."

Paul Bigley told CNN he had received an e-mail message suggesting the abductors were "going to show mercy for Ken and they will imminently release him." Paul Bigley passed along the message via e-mail to CNN.

The message is a translation of an ANSA news service report of a purported Web announcement.

The British Foreign Office believes that the message he was referring to may have been posted on Middle Eastern Web sites.

"We are trying to establish how credible these Web sites are before making any further comment," the office said.

Paul Bigley said he did not know if the message is authentic, but thought there was a "90 percent" chance that it is.

The message says the kidnappers intend to release Bigley to "emphasize the humiliation of the British government."

The letter says that the British government has confirmed its indifference towards Bigley's life and "its continual insistence of carrying out crimes in Iraq, following the criminal Bush, who is disinterested in human life, including that of his own people, who he has sent to Iraq to die to serve Zionism and his own objectives."

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

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