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Muslim group urges release of reporter

Delegation from US arrives in Baghdad

BAGHDAD -- A US Muslim advocacy group arrived in Baghdad yesterday to plead for the release of American hostage Jill Carroll, while an Iraqi official urged US forces to free six detained Iraqi women in a bid to save the journalist.

A deadline set by kidnappers, who threatened to kill Carroll unless US forces released all Iraqi women in military custody, passed late Friday with no word on her fate.

A delegation from the Council on American-Islamic Relations flew to Baghdad from Jordan in a bid to drum up momentum for Carroll's release. The 28-year-old was abducted Jan. 7 in a west Baghdad neighborhood.

''We are the only people who have come from outside of Iraq to call for Jill's release and we are very hopeful they will hear our message on behalf of American Muslims," Nadi Awad, the group's executive director said at Baghdad International Airport. ''Harming her will do [the kidnappers] no good at all. The only way is to release her."

Carroll grew up in Ann Arbor, Mich., and graduated from the University of Massachusetts. She worked as a reporting assistant for The Wall Street Journal before moving to Jordan and launching her freelance career in 2002, learning Arabic along the way. Most recently, she was working for The Christian Science Monitor, based in Boston.

Also yesterday, Deputy Justice Minister Busho Ibrahim Ali said Iraqi authorities have asked US authorities to release six of the nine Iraqi women in US military custody.

''I am making some contacts with the American side to hasten their release because this action might help hastening the release of the kidnapped journalist," Ali said.

Ali said he expected the detained women to be freed tomorrow or Tuesday, though he stressed their releases were not being arranged as part of an exchange for Carroll.

The US military, which has confirmed it has nine Iraqi women in detention on suspicion of activities related to terrorism, has declined to comment on whether any were soon to be freed.

American policy is not to negotiate with kidnappers, but US hostage situation specialists are chasing multiple leads to secure Carroll's freedom.

Circumstances surrounding Carroll's abduction are murky. Since her abduction, she has been seen only in footage obtained and aired by Al-Jazeera on Tuesday.

Her kidnappers, identified as a previously unknown group called The Revenge Brigade, set a 72-hour deadline Tuesday for the Iraqi women to be freed or they would kill the reporter. More than 240 foreigners have been taken captive since the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, and at least 39 have been killed.

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