BAGHDAD -- Top aides to firebrand Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called on kidnappers yesterday to free a Western journalist they are threatening to kill unless US forces withdraw from the holy city of Najaf.
The pan-Arab television station Al-Jazeera reported early yesterday that a group calling itself the Martyrs Brigade had abducted US journalist Micah Garen and would kill him within 48 hours if its demands were not met.
According to witnesses, Garen and his Iraqi translator, Amir Doushi, were walking through a market in the southern city of Nasiriyah on Aug. 13 when two armed men in civilian clothes seized them, police said.
Sheik Aws al-Khafaji, a top Sadr aide, said the rebel cleric's militia was against kidnapping, "especially this journalist who rendered Nasiriyah great service."
"We call upon the kidnappers to set him free and tried many times to contact many groups to help us find out about his condition," Khafaji said in Nasiriyah. "Since the day he was kidnapped, we have been calling upon the kidnappers through mosque prayers to free him."
Also yesterday, a Turkish company announced it was withdrawing its employees from Iraq in an effort to save the life of a worker taken hostage.
Turkish media said the kidnappers have threatened to kill the hostage if the company didn't leave within three days.
The decision was made weeks after another Turkish worker, Murat Yuce, who worked for a sister company, was shot in the head by Al Qaeda-linked militants loyal to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
The statement from Tepe Construction said it was pulling its employees out in an effort to secure the release of Aytullah Gezmen, who has been missing for three weeks and was kidnapped along with Yuce.
In Turkey, private NTV television broadcast excerpts of a video showing Gezmen. The station said he pleaded for help from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and begged his family to ask the companies to withdraw.
Garen, of New York, was working on a story about the looting of archeological sites in Iraq when he was abducted, said his fiancee, Marie-Helene Carleton.
Garen's sister Eva also appealed to the kidnappers in a phone interview with Al-Jazeera yesterday, saying that she hoped they would free her brother after hearing the request from Sadr's aides.
British journalist James Brandon was kidnapped and similarly threatened with death last week, but freed the next day after a public appeal by Sadr's aides, including Khafaji.
A Sadr aide in the southern city of Basra, Sheikh Asaad al-Basri, also condemned Garen's abduction. He said Sadr officials were trying to reach the kidnappers "so that we could mediate to free him."
Garen has taken photographs for the Associated Press and had a story published in The New York Times. His photographs also have appeared in US News & World Report.