Published on Tuesday, October 19, 2004 by the Guardian / UK
CARE Official Kidnapped in Baghdad
by Fisnik Abrashi
|BAGHDAD, Iraq - The director of CARE International's operations in Iraq, who has done humanitarian work in the country for more than 25 years, was abducted from her car early Tuesday in Baghdad, officials said. Her captors released a video showing the woman.
Margaret Hassan, a British-born woman with Iraqi citizenship, was kidnapped while being driven to work about 7:30 a.m. in a western neighborhood of the capital, according to a CARE employee who spoke on condition of anonymity. The employee said CARE did The Arab television station Al-Jazeera broadcast the brief video showing Hassan and said it had received pictures of her passport, credit and ID cards.
The tape showed Hassan, who is in her 60s, wearing a white blouse and sitting on a couch in a room with no other visible markings. She appeared to be speaking, but there was no audio. No gunmen or other people are visible in the footage.
Al-Jazeera television said an ``armed Iraqi group'' claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. The station did not specify the armed group nor say whether any demands were made.
``As of now, we are unaware of the motives for the abduction,'' said a statement from CARE International that was released in London and read to The Associated Press. ``As far as we know, Margaret is unharmed.''
The abduction highlighted that even a longtime charity worker known to many in Iraq is not safe amid the kidnapping campaign carried out by insurgents seeking to drive out U.S. forces. More than 150 foreigners have been kidnapped and at least 30 of them killed - including three Americans who were beheaded.
She had been ``providing humanitarian relief to the people of Iraq'' for more than 25 years, the statement said. The British domestic news agency Press Association said she was born in Britain but became an Iraqi citizen, is married to an Iraqi and has lived in this country for 30 years.
Shortly before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Hassan warned British lawmakers that Iraq could face a humanitarian catastrophe in the event of war. She had said the Iraqi people were already living through a terrible emergency and did not have the resources to withstand an additional crisis brought about by military action.
Hassan speaks fluent Arabic with an Iraqi accent, said Robert Fisk, a reporter for The Independent newspaper of Britain who has written stories about her humanitarian work.
``She was very careful not to involve herself in any political discussion,'' he said.
``Needless to say, we are doing whatever we can to secure her release,'' the CARE statement added. ``But equally, it would be unhelpful for us to comment further at this time. Our overwhelming concern must be for Margaret's safety.''
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he was ``very concerned'' by the kidnap.
``Our thoughts and prayers go out to her, her family and her colleagues,'' he said in London.
A Foreign Office spokesman told Press Association that British officials in Iraq were ``working closely'' with Iraqi authorities on her behalf.
Earlier this month, British engineer Ken Bigley, 62, was beheaded by his captors - a killing claimed by a group headed by terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Humanitarian organizations have not been spared from the violence sweeping Iraq. Last year, the Iraq headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross was damaged by a bomb, and many non-governmental organizations have withdraw foreign staff because of the bombings and kidnappings.
Last month, Italian aid workers Simona Torretta and Simona Pari, both 29, were kidnapped from the offices of their aid agency, ``Un Ponte Per ...'' (``A Bridge To...'') in Baghdad. They were released in late September after three weeks in captivity.
In Amman, Jordan, Astrid van Genderen Stort, spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said it was up to each non-governmental organization whether to keep staff in Iraq.
``We, the U.N., decided last year not to have international presence anymore because we deemed the situation too dangerous for us,'' she said. ``The kidnapping of the Italian and Iraqi women only a while ago should have alerted others even more as to the dangers of operating in Iraq.''
CARE International has been active in Iraq since 1991 following the Gulf War and is the only international non-governmental organization to have maintained continuous programs in central and southern Iraq, according to its Web site.
``Since 1991, CARE's programs have provided humanitarian assistance to over seven million people - one-third of the Iraqi population,'' the site said. ``CARE programs focus on rebuilding, repairing and maintaining water and sanitation systems and rebuilding and refurbishing hospitals and clinics. Iraq presents special problems for humanitarian relief.''
© 2004 Guardian Newspapers, Ltd.