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Jailed cleric calls for hostage release

Published: 7:52AM Thursday December 08, 2005 Source: Reuters

A Jordanian cleric jailed in Britain for links to al Qaeda made a dramatic appeal from his prison cell on Wednesday for the release of a Briton and three other Western aid workers held hostage in Iraq.
   
He said the men, kidnapped on November 26 in Baghdad, should not be punished for the policies of their governments.
   
"I, your brother Abu Qatada...beseech my brothers in the Swords of Truth in Iraq, who are imprisoning the four Christian peace activists, to release them in accordance with the fundamental principle of mercy of our faith," he said in an appeal aired on Arab television networks on Wednesday.
   
"Our prophet said mercy should be shown unless there is a reason in Sharia (Islamic law) that prevents it," he added in a videotape supplied to Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya channels by his lawyers.
   
British authorities say Abu Qatada was a leading inspiration for al Qaeda in Europe.
   
Norman Kember from Britain, two Canadians and an American were working with a Christian peace group when they were seized.
   
An Iraqi group calling itself the "Swords of Truth" has threatened to kill them unless Iraqi detainees are released by Thursday. The group accused the four of spying for foreign forces in Iraq, a charge denied by their colleagues.
   
"We are aware of these so-called demands which no government could meet," British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told reporters before meeting other EU foreign ministers to discuss the European Union budget.
   
"I am afraid I have nothing further to report. We work and we pray for a satisfactory outcome," he said.
   
Muslim scholars and activists from around the world, including leaders of the militant Palestinian Hamas group and Lebanon's Hizbollah, appealed this week for the release of the four.
   
Kember, 74, called on British Prime Minister Tony Blair for help in separate footage shown on BBC News 24 on Tuesday.
   
"I ask Mr Blair to take British troops out of Iraq and leave the Iraqi people to come to their own decisions on their government."
   
Kember's wife, Pat, also issued a statement calling for his release.
   
"My husband Norman doesn't believe in violence, neither does his family," she said.
   
"We believe everyone should live in peace, and that is why Norman went to Iraq. He wanted the Iraqi people to know that there are many people who feel sorry for their suffering."