updated 10/20/2004 12:34:24 PM ET 2004-10-20T16:34:24

CARE International suspended operations in Iraq on Wednesday after gunmen kidnapped the woman who ran the humanitarian organization’s work in the country. The victim’s Iraqi husband said her captors had not contacted the family or her employer.

Margaret Hassan, who holds British, Irish and Iraqi citizenship, was seized early Tuesday on her way to work in western Baghdad after gunmen blocked her route and dragged the driver and a companion from the car, her husband said.

Hassan, who is in her early 60s, is among the most widely known humanitarian workers in the Middle East and is also the most high-profile figure to fall victim to a wave of kidnappings sweeping Iraq in recent months.

The Arab television station Al-Jazeera broadcast a brief video showing Hassan, wearing a white blouse and appearing tense, sitting in a room with bare white walls. An editor at the station, based in Qatar, said the tape contained no audio. It did not identify what group was holding her and contained no demand for her release.

Iraqi officials refused to comment on the case, citing the need for security to protect her life.

Her husband, Tahseen Ali Hassan, told Al-Jazeera that his wife had not received threats and that the kidnappers had not contacted anyone with any demands. “Nothing like this happened before, because CARE is a humanitarian organization, and she has served the Iraqi people for 30 years,” he said.

Hassan has lived in Baghdad for 30 years, helping supply medicines and other humanitarian aid and speaking out about Iraqis’ suffering under international sanctions during the 1990s.

CARE suspends relief operations
Early Wednesday, CARE Australia, which coordinates the international agency’s Iraq operations, announced it had suspended operations because of the abduction, but it said staff would not be evacuated. It was unclear how many non-Iraqis work for CARE in Iraq.

Many non-governmental organizations began withdrawing international staff after attacks on foreigners and their institutions began in earnest in the summer of 2003.

“Our staff are not operating currently there, they’re certainly not working there now in light of the current situation,” Robert Glasser, CARE Australia’s chief executive officer, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Militants have kidnapped at least seven other women over the past six months, but all were released. Last month, Italian aid workers Simona Torretta and Simona Pari, both 29, were kidnapped from their Baghdad offices. They were freed after three weeks in captivity.

By contrast, at least 30 male hostages have been killed, including three Americans beheaded by their captors. Hassan’s abduction occurred less than two weeks after a video posted on an Islamic Web site showed the beheading of British hostage Kenneth Bigley.

CARE said Hassan was born in Britain, but the British and Irish foreign offices said she was born in Ireland, which is not part of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. When the kidnappers sent the tape to Al-Jazeera, they said they had abducted a “British aid worker,” according to the station.

British troop shift?
The British government is weighing a U.S. request to shift some of the country’s 9,000 soldiers from relatively peaceful southern Iraq to areas south of Baghdad — presumably to free U.S. troops for an all-out assault on the insurgent bastion Fallujah.

British lawmakers are worried about sending their soldiers to the more volatile U.S.-controlled sector at a time when public opposition to the war in Britain has reduced Prime Minister Tony Blair’s popularity.

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.

“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,” van Genderen Stort said.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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