Militant group asks Sunni Muslim body in Iraq for religious edict concerning kidnappings

Sunday, September 5th 2004, 9:20 am
By: News On 6

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ An Iraqi militant group appealed Sunday to an influential Sunni Muslim organization for an edict on whether the kidnapping of foreigners who work for occupation forces is acceptable under Islam.

The appeal came as a Turkish transportation company, Renay International, announced it would withdraw from Iraq a day after Iraqi militants threatened to behead one of its employees _ the latest company to meet kidnappers' demands to go.

Also Sunday, a slain Egyptian was found near Beiji, about 150 miles north of Baghdad, his hands bound and signs of a beating on his corpse, said Iraqi Maj. Gen. Anwar Mohammed Amin. It was not immediately clear if he was a kidnapping victim.

Militants waging a 16-month insurgency have increasingly turned to kidnapping to force coalition forces and contractors from the country. More than 100 foreigners have been abducted since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2002 and many have been executed.

The Arab television station Al-Arabiya on Sunday aired a videotape showed a masked man identifying himself as a member of the group ``Holders of the Black Banners,'' reading a statement seeking a ``fatwa'' or religious edict from the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq.

The militants asked whether Islam permits the kidnapping and killing of foreigners who work for occupation forces, sayind the association should ``issue a legal fatwa defining this issue, and we are ready to abide by it.''

The Holders of the Black Banner recently kidnapped seven truck drivers from India, Kenya and Egypt, demanding their employer stop working in Iraq. The drivers were released after weeks in captivity.

The Association of Muslim Scholars had no immediate comment.

The group has played a leading role in winning the release of hostages, appealing to kindappers for captives' freedom. Released foreigners are often delivered to the group's main mosque in Cairo. The group, made up mainly of conservative clerics, says it has no connection to militant groups carrying out the abductions, but it is believed to have contacts with them.

The large majority of kidnappings in Iraq are believed to have been carried out by Sunni insurgent groups.

Turkey's Renay International was the latest company to pull out of Iraq over the abductions.

``Our company is ending activities in Iraq. We hope that our driver is safely returned to our country and to his family,'' Edip Rende, a partner in the Renay International transportation company, was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency.

Anatolia identified the captured Turk as 48-year-old Mithat Civi, a father of three who had been working in Kuwait and had left for Iraq a month ago.

The move came after a group calling itself the Islamic Resistance Movement -Al-Noaman Brigades released a tape showing a bearded man, purported to be the Turkish truck driver, sitting in front of a black banner bearing the group's name in gold Arabic characters.

The militants threatened to behead the Turk unless his employers and their Kuwaiti contractor end operations in Iraq. The video tape was aired on Al-Arabiya television on Saturday.

Last month, a Turkish employee of a laundry services company was abducted in Iraq and shot three three times in the head by al-Qaida linked militants loyal to Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. In a separate kidnapping case earlier this week, a videotape aired on Al-Jazeera showed three Turkish hostages being killed by al-Zarqawi's Tawhid and Jihad militant group, which is also linked to al-Zarqawi.

In the past week, militants have also killed an Italian journalist and 12 Nepalese workers, while seven truckers from India, Kenya and Egypt were released after their Kuwaiti employer paid a $500,000 ransom.

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier returned home from the Middle East without winning the release of two French journalists held hostage since mid-August.