A terror group in the embattled Iraqi town of Fallujah issued an Easter threat to begin killing Christians and destroying churches if the U.S.-led coalition forces didn’t lift the siege of the city.
In addition, kidnappers of a presumed American citizen in Iraq have threatened to kill him, the Al Jazeera satellite television station reported yesterday, showing footage of the hostage.
The Brigades and Mujahideen called on Pope John Paul and the United Nations to stop the U.S. siege.
Al Jazeera said the threats came in a fax it received from a group in Fallujah called “Saraya wal Mujahideen,” which translates to Brigades and Mujahideen.
It was not clear if it was the same group as the one holding Japanese hostages in Iraq.
Al Arabiya reported the group threatened to destroy churches in return for U.S. attacks on mosques, assassinate or kidnap priests, and target Christians if killing of Muslims did not stop.
“They issued a statement calling on the UN secretary-general, Pope John Paul II and all Christian groups to intervene immediately to end the siege of Fallujah and all Iraqi cities,” Al Arabiya said.
The kidnappers of the U.S. citizen said “Our sole demand is the lifting of the siege of the city of mosques (Fallujah).”
“If this is not heeded within 12 hours starting at 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 10, 2004, he will be treated worse than those who were killed and burned in Fallujah,” a statement said in reference to four American contractors killed, burned, mutilated and hung from bridges in the city last week.
The threat came before Iraqi mediators reported that the U.S.-led coalition and insurgents in Fallujah had agreed to a 12-hour ceasefire starting today to pave the way for U.S. Marines to leave the town.
It came in the form of an audiotaped message from “the mujahideen of Iraq to U.S. forces” after the TV showed footage of the purported American national identified as Thomas Hamill who was apparently the same man shown earlier on Australian television shortly after being captured.
“This is one of your prisoners who fell in the mujahideen’s hands lately during the siege of the heroic city of mosques,” said a man who was heard reading the statement.
“Up until the release of this message, he has been treated as a prisoner, in keeping with the provisions of our tolerant Islamic sharia (law),” he said before issuing his warning.
About 60,000 people have left Fallujah over the last two days. The city normally has a population of about 285,000.
Elsewhere, fierce fighting raged across the country as a new wave of insurgent attacks showed no end.
The most violent incident came in Baquba, northeast of Baghdad, where gunmen attacked government buildings and police stations.
Several Americans were wounded and 40 Iraqis were reported killed.
An American airman was killed in a mortar attack on an airbase in Balad, north of Baghdad.
In the northern city of Mosul, the head of the Iraqi Red Crescent’s Irbil office, Barzan Umer Mantik, and his wife were attacked and killed in their car.
Also, the German Foreign Ministry said two security agents from its Baghdad embassy have been missing for several days.
South of Baghdad, the militia of radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr remains in control of Karbala and the nearby cities of Najaf and Kufa.
But al-Sadr’s followers have suspended attacks on coalition forces during the al-Arbaeen religious festival that runs through the weekend.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims are in Karbala and other Shiite cities to mark the end of the mourning period for a 7th-century martyred Shiite saint.
Reuters reported that members of the Iraqi Governing Council were holding talks with al-Sadr.
At least 47 American soldiers have died in Iraq this week, and more than 460 Iraqis have been killed, including 280 in Fallujah. At least another 1,000 have been injured.
The number of U.S. soldiers lost since the war began in March, 2003 has now reached 648.