Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s office confirmed Monday that two of his female relatives who were kidnapped last week have been released.
Allawi’s cousin, Ghazi Allawi, 75; his cousin’s wife, Suaad; and his cousin’s pregnant daughter-in-law, Wasnaa, were abducted at gunpoint last Tuesday in western Baghdad’s Yarmouk neighborhood.
“Yes, yes, the two women were released yesterday,” said an Allawi spokesman who declined to be named.
There was no word on Ghazi Allawi or any other details.
Arab satellite television Al Jazeera reported on Sunday that the two women were released but that the premiere's first cousin continued to be held.
Fears for the kidnapped relatives were high on Friday — the deadline set by the alleged hostage-takers.
A previously unknown group calling itself Ansar al-Jihad, or Holy War Followers, claimed responsibility for the kidnappings in a statement posted on the Internet. It called for the prime minister to end to the U.S. assault on Fallujah and release all detainees in Iraq.
"If the agent government does not meet our demands within 48 hours we will behead them," said the posting dated Wednesday on a site often used by Islamic fundamentalist militants.
A hope for 'some sort of humanity'
In London last week, a first cousin of both Ayad and Ghazi Allawi spoke to MSNBC.com about the family’s plight to free the hostages. He's also an Allawi, although he spoke on condition that his first name not be used.
“If they’ve got any sympathy — this is a pregnant woman and an old woman — I hope they have some sort of humanity to leave them,” said Allawi, who left Iraq for political reasons in 1977.
“(Ghazi’s) an old man, 75 years old; he hasn’t even had a relation with Ayad for all those years when Ayad was in exile; if they realize, that they might realize he’s not the right target,” he said.
Once a member of the Arab nationalist Baath party in Iraq, the interim prime minister went into exile first in Lebanon and later in London when the party became dominated by Saddam Hussein and his cronies. He stayed away from his homeland for more than three decades.
Since the U.S.-led invasion, he has rekindled relationships with family members in Iraq, but is not close to them due to the amount of time he spent abroad, the London-based family member said.
Life as ‘a target’
Asked if his family in Baghdad had feared being targeted by insurgents due to their link to the U.S.-backed prime minister he said, “My cousin Ghazi refused to have security guards because once you bring bodyguards it would open people’s eyes and make him more of a target, but he was already a target because he was Ayad’s cousin.”
Now retired, Ghazi Allawi once worked for the Ministry of Oil, and later owned an electrical goods shop, but was never involved in politics, according to the London-based cousin.
“Their daughter-in-law recently graduated with her Masters degree,” he said. “I was in Iraq one year ago, and just after I left she was married to (Ghazi’s) son Faysal,” he said.
Faysal and Wasnaa, both in their mid-twenties, studied computer science and have never been involved in politics, according to this Allawi. She is nine months pregnant with their first child, and her relatives begged the kidnappers to have mercy on her in a videotape aired by Lebanese satellite channel LBC on Thursday.
‘A type of sacrifice’
“We can do nothing because there is no way to contact (the kidnappers).”
“The daughter in law’s husband (Faisal) is still there (in Baghdad) and is trying by all means to reach those groups directly, so maybe he can get a chance to negotiate with them,” Allawi said, speaking to MSNBC.com from his home in West London.
However, even if the Allawi family is able to contact the kidnappers, the premier will not negotiate on the U.S. assault on Fallujah , or the status of Iraqi prisoners.
On Friday, the prime minister defended the Fallujah siege in an interview with a British newspaper.
“It is not a fight of our choosing. But it is a fight we must win and one, I can assure you with all my heart, that has the support of all but a handful of the Iraqi people,” he said in The Sun.
“These men of violence control Fallujah by fear but also hold the rest of the country hostage as proper preparations for our national elections are held up," the premier told the daily tabloid paper.
MSNBC.com's Jennifer Carlile in London and Reuters contributed to this report.