msnbc.com news services
updated 2/13/2008 5:44:12 AM ET 2008-02-13T10:44:12

Kidnappers freed a CBS interpreter who was seized in the Iraqi city of Basra this week along with a journalist from the network, a Shiite group that had been negotiating their release said Wednsesday.

Hareth al-Athari, head of the Basra office of the movement of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, told Reuters the interpreter had been taken to a hotel in the southern city. The journalist had not yet been freed, he said.

CBS said Monday that two of their journalists had gone missing. Police in Basra reported that the men, a British journalist and an interpreter, had been snatched from a hotel in the center of the city, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad.

Not identified
CBS News said Monday that two journalists working for it were missing in Basra, but it did not identify them and has requested their names not be released if obtained.

Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, has seen fierce fighting between rival Shiite militias as part of a power struggle in the oil-rich south.

Al-Ethari did not identify the kidnappers but said Sadrist mediators had persuaded the kidnappers to drop their demands and release the hostages. He refused to list the original demands ahead of the release.

Earlier, an Iraqi police official in Basra familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press that talks had started at 3 p.m. Tuesday and continued until midnight, then resumed three hours later.

Less frequent kidnappings
Kidnappings of Westerners and Iraqis — for political motives or ransom — were common in the past but have become infrequent recently with a decline in violence.

Since 2004, three journalists — Fakher Haider of The New York Times, as well as James Brandon of Britain and New York freelancer Steven Vincent — have been abducted in Basra, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Brandon was released, but Vincent and Haider were murdered, it said.

According to CPJ, at least 51 journalists have been abducted in Iraq since 2004. The New York-based group said the majority was released, but 12 were killed.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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