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Head of charity urges release of Iraqi director

Al-Jazeera shows video of Hassan pleading for her life


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Al-Jazeera broadcast video Friday showing Margaret Hassan pleading for her life.
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Hassan pleads for freedom from her captors.
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Hours after a kidnapped humanitarian aid worker tearfully pleaded for her life in a video released Friday by her captors, the head of CARE International urged the kidnappers to release Margaret Hassan unharmed.

Hassan, the director of CARE International in Baghdad, was shown in a videotape on the Arabic-language network Al-Jazeera, sobbing and urging British Prime Minister Tony Blair to "pull the troops from Iraq."

"Please help me, please help me, these might be my last hours .... Please help me, please British people ask Mr. Blair to pull the troops from Iraq and not bring them to Baghdad.

"Please, please I beg of you, the British people, to help me. I don't want to die like [Kenneth] Bigley. I beg of you, I beg of you."

Bigley, a British engineer, was beheaded two weeks ago by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's Unification and Jihad group. His two American coworkers, who were taken hostage with him, were killed earlier.

It is not known what group is holding Hassan.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw called Friday's video "distressing."

"I have the greatest sympathy for what her family is suffering," he said in a statement. "Margaret Hassan has spent more than 30 years working for the Iraqi people. We hope all Iraqis will join us in calling for her immediate release."

But the statement made no reference to any negotiations or steps London might take to help secure her release.

Hassan was kidnapped early Tuesday. Her captors have given no demands or explanations as to why she was snatched.

In the wake of her kidnapping, CARE International suspended its humanitarian operations in Iraq. (Full story)

On Thursday, Hassan's husband, an Iraqi, said he was having a hard time understanding why she was abducted.

"She's not involved in any politics or religion," Tahseen Ali Hassan said at a news conference. "She's serving this organization for over 12 years. It was really a shock to me."

Margaret Hassan, who holds dual British and Iraqi citizenships, is credited with helping the poorest and neediest Iraqis.

Patients at a hospital in Baghdad took to the streets Wednesday in protest her abduction. They credited her with helping rebuild the facility last year.

Her husband said he has not been contacted by the kidnappers and that he has no idea who abducted his wife. He asked for her release.

Hassan, who was born in Ireland, is a highly respected humanitarian official in the Middle East.

Hassan's husband said she was abducted shortly after she arrived at work.

"Two cars intercepted her from front and back," he said. "They attacked her car and pulled out the driver and a companion. Then they took the car and drove away to an unknown location. This is according to what I heard from the people working in her organization."

CARE International has had no international staff in Iraq since November 2003. The organization maintained operations during the start of the Iraq war in March 2003, and sponsors health projects, including water and sanitation.

Margaret Hassan has worked for the charity for more than a decade and has lived in Iraq for 30 years. A CARE International statement said the aid group was "unaware of the motive for the abduction."

Iraqi authorities, in conjunction with the British, are leading the investigation into the kidnapping, a U.S. State Department official said. The United States is assisting, the official said.


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