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Two Russian hostages in Iraq freed


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This image is from a video shown on Al Jazeera that the network said showed the two Russian hostages.
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BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Two Russians abducted by guerrillas in Iraq earlier this month have been freed on the southern outskirts of Baghdad, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

Russian news reports Monday said the men identified themselves as Andrei Meshcheryakov and Alexander Gordiyenko. They were kidnapped on May 10 in an ambush in which one of their colleagues was killed.

Itar-TASS also carried the report but did not give details on whether a ransom was paid or other demands met.

The Arabic language news network Al Jazeera aired pictures Sunday of what it said were the two electrical workers taken hostage last week by an Islamic group in Dura, south of Baghdad.

A statement from a group referring to itself as Jaish al-Tifa al-Mansoura -- the Army of the Victorious Sect -- said it was holding the men and called on countries participating in "this criminal act," presumably the war in Iraq, to withdraw their citizens "before it's too late."

The videotape depicted the men eating as they sat on the floor, apparently in good health.

"We are showing the whole world our prisoners' pictures and how the Muslim mujahedeen are treating them," the previously unknown group said in the statement, which accompanied the tape.

The men were working for the electric power consortium Inter Energo Servis (IES) when their vehicle was ambushed. Another IES worker was killed in the attack, a company spokesman said.

It was the second time IES contractors had been taken hostage in Iraq. In April, five Ukrainians and three Russians were held briefly and released. Afterward, the company allowed those who wanted to go home to do so, but most elected to stay.

The consortium has about 370 workers in Iraq and holds contracts to repair power plants in Nasiriya, in southern Iraq, and in Baghdad.

During the past several weeks, civilian hostage-taking has become an increasingly common tactic by insurgents. At least two kidnapped foreign civilians have been killed and their executions recorded on videotape.

Last week, a video posted on an al Qaeda-linked Web site showed the beheading of American Nicholas Berg at the hands of his captors.

In April, Al Jazeera received a videotape showing the shooting execution of Italian civilian Fabrizio Quattrocchi.

Iraqi insurgents have tried to use the civilian abductions to pressure countries into withdrawing their troops from Iraq.

In recent months, civilians from the Czech Republic, Canada, Italy, Ukraine, Japan, China, South Korea, Britain, Pakistan, India, Turkey, the Philippines and the United States have been kidnapped.

Some have been released and others remain missing.


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