A videotape of one of five British hostages seized from a Baghdad Ministry in May was broadcast on Iraqi television yesterday--the first publicly-circulated proof-of-life since the men were kidnapped more than six months ago.
A written statement opens the clip, threatening that if the group's deadline for the withdrawal of British forces is not met, "this hostage will be killed as a first warning, which would be followed with details that you would not wish to know". The kidnappers say the UK has 10 days to withdraw troops, but does not say when the countdown was set to begin.
The statement also accuses Britain of plundering the wealth of Iraq and says that the five had "confessed and detailed the agenda with which they came to steal our wealth under false pretence of being advisers to the finance ministry". The tape then promised to "follow up with their confessions later".
One of the hostages, whose names have never been released by the British government, then appears on the screen and begins by identifying himself as "Jason," and saying the date is November 18. Two masked men brandishing assault rifles stand on each side of him and a banner reading "the Islamic Shi'ite Resistance in Iraq" is visible in the background.
"Jason" is the only hostage shown in the video, and says he has been asked to urge the British people to request their release. He says his kidnappers wanted him to communicate that they like the American and British people, but don't want their militaries in Iraq. At one point, Jason says, "I have been here now 173 days and I feel we've been forgotten."
The short clip was first broadcast on Iraq's Al-Arabiya channel on Tuesday. According to the Guardian, an official at al-Arabiya, a Saudi-owned satellite channel based in Dubai which first broadcast the clip, said staff had received an anonymous call giving the location where the tape could be found.
The London Times reports Downing Street is criticizing the airing of the video. “We have seen the media broadcast of the footage. We condemn the publication of this video, which serves only to add to the distress of the men’s families and friends," the Prime Minister's spokesman said.
“It’s our long-established policy not to comment on such footage, and we encourage others not to speculate. That would be unhelpful and distressing to the families concerned.”
There has been little news of the five men--four security contractors and a computer consultant--since they were seized during a raid on a Finance Ministry office in eastern Baghdad on May 29.
The Times reports the kidnappers had strolled up to the guards at the Finance Ministry and easily gained entry after politely explaining that they were with the Commission on Public Integrity, an anti-graft agency.
Dozens of men were reportedly involved in the operation, and men dressed in police uniforms had sealed off Palestine Street near the heavily fortified Green Zone. Witnesses suggested there was little or no violence involved, before the kidnappers left with the Britons.
US and Iraqi leaders first suspected the Mahdi Army of backing the operation, and alleged Iranian involvement, though more recent information has implicated a Mahdi Army splinter group.