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Tape aired of hostage US journalist

Video demands prisoners' release

BAGHDAD -- Jill Carroll, an American reporter taken hostage, appeared in a silent 20-second video aired yesterday by Al-Jazeera television, which said her abductors gave the United States 72 hours to free female prisoners in Iraq or she would be killed.

The tape showed the 28-year-old reporter sitting in front of a white background and speaking, but her voice could not be heard. On the tape, Carroll is pale and appears tired, and her long, straight, hair is parted in the middle and pulled back from her face.

Al-Jazeera would not tell the Associated Press how it received the tape, but the station issued its own statement calling for Carroll's release. An Al-Jazeera producer said no militant group's name was attached to the message that was sent to the station with the silent tape yesterday.

However, a still photograph of Carroll from the videotape that later appeared on the Al-Jazeera website carried a logo in the bottom right corner that read ''The Revenge Brigade." The group's name was not among the names of other groups that have issued claims of responsibility for violence in Iraq.

Carroll is a freelance reporter for The Christian Science Monitor, and the newspaper released a statement from her family pleading with her captors to set her free.

''Jill is an innocent journalist and we respectfully ask that you please show her mercy and allow her to return home to her mother, sister, and family," the statement said. ''Jill is a friend and sister to many Iraqis and has been dedicated to bringing the truth of the Iraq war to the world. We appeal for the speedy and safe return of our beloved daughter and sister."

In its own statement appealing for Carroll's release, the newspaper said she arrived in Iraq in 2003 and began filing stories for the Monitor early last year.

The kidnappers ''have seized an innocent person who is a great admirer of the Iraqi people," the newspaper said. ''She is a professional journalist whose only goal has been to report truthfully about Iraq and to promote understanding. As an intelligent, dedicated, open-minded reporter, she has earned the respect of her Arab and Western peers."

The State Department responded to the videotape with a statement that US officials were doing everything possible to win Carroll's freedom.

''We continue to make every effort we can, working with Iraqis and others, to see Miss Carroll is returned safe and sound," spokesman Sean McCormack said.

Carroll was kidnapped Jan. 7 in one of Baghdad's most dangerous neighborhoods. Gunmen ambushed her car and killed her translator shortly after she left the offices of a Sunni Arab politician, who failed to show up for the interview.

The US military raided a prominent Sunni mosque a day after Carroll was kidnapped, sparking a demonstration by hundreds of worshipers. A US military official said the raid was a necessary immediate response to the kidnapping based on a tip provided by an Iraqi citizen.

Carroll, who speaks some Arabic and wore a head covering while moving around Iraq, has been described by her editor as an aggressive reporter but not a reckless one. Insurgents in Iraq have kidnapped more than 240 foreigners and killed at least 39 of them.

Her abduction occurred as Sunni Arab politicians are discussing their possible participation in a coalition government, which the United States hopes will help defuse the Sunni-led insurgency and heal sectarian rifts between Sunnis and Shi'ites.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani predicted yesterday that the country's most prominent Sunni Arab political group would join a national unity government once Dec. 15 election results are announced. No date has been set for the results' release.

Also yesterday, a court official said a Shi'ite lawyer is expected to take charge of Saddam Hussein's trial in the 1982 massacre of more than 140 Shi'ites, replacing the Kurdish chief judge who resigned amid contentions of government interference in the high profile case.

Said al-Hamash, the second-ranking member of the five-judge tribunal trying the former Iraqi leader and seven codefendants, is expected to replace chief judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin, said Raid Juhi, the top investigating judge who prepared the case against Hussein.

Amin's expected resignation followed complaints over the slow progress of the trial into allegations of Hussein's involvement in the 1982 Dujail killings north of Baghdad following an assassination attempt against him.

The switch is not expected to prevent the trial's scheduled resumption Jan. 24. The trial recessed Dec. 22 after two days of testimony.

Conviction could bring a sentence of death by hanging.

Amin would be the second judge to step down. Another panel member removed himself in late November because one of the codefendants may have been involved in the execution of his brother.

Talabani would not object to moving the tribunal from Baghdad to southern Iraq or his northern Kurdish region if the judges sought such a change on security grounds, presidential secretary Hewah Othman said. But any transfer is dependent on parliamentary approval.

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