An al-Qaida-led insurgent group said it decided to kill four kidnapped Russian Embassy workers after a deadline for meeting its demands passed on Wednesday, prompting one hostage’s sister to make an impassioned plea for the men to be freed.
The Internet statement purportedly from the Mujahedeen Shura Council did not say whether the decision had been carried out.
Hours after the statement was posted, a sister of one of the hostages, a Muslim, pleaded on Arab television for the men to be spared.
“I beg you to pardon them and release them. You are Muslims, and Islam, before anything else, is a religion of peace and justice,” Aliya Agliulin, wearing an Islamic headscarf, said on Al-Jazeera television, according to an Arabic voiceover of her statement.
“I, as a Muslim like all other Muslims in Russia, feel pain for what is happening in Iraq,” said Agliulin, the sister of hostage Rinat Agliulin. “Please act wisely and think of the feeling of the families of the hostages and their children who are waiting for their return. ... My brother is the lone provider for our family.”
Group mutilated, murdered U.S. soldiers
The Shura Council is a grouping of seven Iraqi insurgent groups, most prominent among them al-Qaida in Iraq, which on Tuesday claimed responsibility for killing two kidnapped U.S. soldiers whose bodies were found south of Baghdad.
The Shura Council said Moscow failed to meet its demands for a full withdrawal of troops from the war-ravaged region of Chechnya and that a 48-hour deadline set in a statement issued Monday had run out.
“Therefore, the Islamic court of the Mujahedeen Shura Council decided to implement God’s law sentencing them (the four Russians) to death,” the group said in its statement on an Islamic militant Web site where it often posts its messages.
The statement’s authenticity could not be confirmed. The group produced no photos or videos of the men to prove it was holding them.
Strongly urged against
In Moscow, the Foreign Ministry called on the kidnappers to spare the four Russians.
“We once again strongly urge (them) not to take an irreparable step and preserve the lives of our people,” spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said. He said Russia “has never and nowhere waged a war against Islam.”
The four embassy workers were abducted on June 3 in an attack on their car in which a fifth Russian was killed. The captives include the embassy’s third secretary, Fyodor Zaitsev, and three other staffers, Agliulin, Anatoly Smirnov and Oleg Fedoseyev.
The slaying of the two American soldiers was the first act of violence claimed by al-Qaida in Iraq since its leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in a June 3 airstrike. A Shura Council statement Tuesday said al-Qaida in Iraq’s new leader, Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, beheaded the two Americans.
In Wednesday’s statement, the council said the Russian government “did not respond to our conditions for releasing its diplomats and gave no value to its citizens, only calling for their release while continuing its war against Islam.”