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Family heartbreak over Hassan fate


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CARE official Margaret Hassan lived a life of generosity.

Pleas for mercy again go unheard as another hostage is brutally executed.
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Margaret Hassan

(CNN) -- The family of Margaret Hassan, director of CARE International in Iraq, said their "hearts were broken" Tuesday after hearing of her apparent death at the hands of her captors.

Looking gaunt, her Iraqi husband, Tahseen Ali Hassan, said, "I have been told that there is a video of Margaret which appears to show her murdered. The video may be genuine but I do not know. I beg those people who took Margaret to tell me what they have done with her."

Hassan's wife was kidnapped on October 19 by a group that did not identify itself. Videotapes surfaced Tuesday purportedly showing her killing.

Arab network Al-Jazeera reported, "Al-Jazeera has obtained a video showing a masked militant shooting a blindfolded woman, who was referred to as Margaret Hassan, in the head using a handgun. Al-Jazeera decided to wait on reporting the news until it confirmed the authenticity of the tape."

Al-Jazeera did not show the video.

CARE, for whom Hassan had worked for more than 12 years, issued a written statement through a spokesman.

"It is with profound sadness that we have learnt of the existence of a video in which it appears that our colleague Margaret Hassan has been killed. We are shocked and appalled that this has been the apparent outcome of her abduction."

Hassan, who was in her 60s, held dual British and Iraqi citizenships.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said, "Our experts have been examining a video which appeared to show that Margaret Hassan has been murdered, to establish whether it is genuine.

"As a result of our analysis, we have today had to inform Margaret Hassan's family that, sadly, we now believe that she has probably been murdered, although we cannot conclude this with complete certainty."

His written statement continued, "I want to express my deepest sympathy and condolences to Margaret's family. They have been through a month of the most terrible uncertainty and torment. To kidnap and kill anyone is inexcusable.

"But it is repugnant to commit such a crime against a woman who has spent most of her life working for the good of the people of Iraq."

Hassan was a highly respected humanitarian official in the Middle East. Shortly after her abduction, patients at a Baghdad hospital took to the streets to protest the kidnapping.

They credited her with helping to rebuild the medical facility last year.

Hassan's family said Hassan had devoted her life to caring for the poor and vulnerable. They said in a written statement, in part:

"Our hearts are broken. We have kept hoping for as long as we could, but we now have to accept that Margaret has probably gone and at last her suffering has ended.

"For the past 30 years, Margaret worked tirelessly for the Iraqi people.

"Margaret had only good will towards everyone. She had no prejudice against any creed. She dedicated her whole life to working for the poor and vulnerable, helping those who had no one else." (Full statement)

The letter was written by Michael, Dierdre, Geraldine and Kathryn Fitzsimons, brothers and sisters of Hassan, and was issued at their request by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office press office.

In its statement, CARE said it was profoundly saddened by Hassan's apparent death.

"We are shocked and appalled that this has been the apparent outcome of her abduction. We want to express our deepest sympathy to Mrs. Hassan's husband, Tahseen, and to her family.

"Mrs. Hassan was an extraordinary woman who dedicated her life to the poor and disadvantaged in Iraq, particularly the children. The whole of CARE is in mourning.

"Through her courage, tenacity and commitment, Mrs. Hassan assisted more than 17 million Iraqis living in the most difficult of circumstances. Everyone who met her was touched by her personality and compassion.

"CARE sincerely thanks the Iraqi people for everything they did to try to secure the safe return of Margaret Hassan and for the many expressions of support.

CARE pulled its staff out of Iraq on October 20 after deciding it had become too dangerous to remain in the country.

Hassan was born in Ireland and had lived in Iraq for 30 years.

The group said on November 2 that it would turn Hassan over to an al Qaeda-affiliated group -- Base of Jihad -- if the British government did not pull its troops out of Iraq within 48 hours, the Arab TV network Al-Jazeera said.

Base of Jihad has been blamed for numerous beheadings of foreigners in Iraq, including the slayings of Americans Nicholas Berg, Eugene Armstrong and Jack Hensley, and Briton Kenneth Bigley. They also claimed responsibility for the killing of a Japanese hostage.

At the height of the war, about 46,000 British troops were in Iraq. About 8,500 remained in late October.

Early this month, Hassan's three sisters met with Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern and appealed to her captors for her release. Relatives also begged British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the British government to meet the kidnappers' demands.

But one of her sisters, Dierdre Fitzsimons, said, "We are Irish, and we have no influence on the British government."

Hassan appeared in two videos, aired by Al-Jazeera in October, pleading for her life. In one, on October 27, she urges Britons to pressure Prime Minister Tony Blair to withdraw troops from the country.

Hassan also called for the release of all female prisoners in Iraq and urged CARE's board of directors to end operations in Iraq, an action they already had taken.

Hassan's pleas are not heard in the tape, but an anchor for Al-Jazeera described the contents of her message. Five days earlier, a videotape of Hassan shows her tearfully urging Blair to pull troops from Iraq.

Hassan was kidnapped on the street shortly after she arrived at her office. Her abductors never explained why she was targeted.


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