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11 Iraqi national guardsmen killed, insurgents say

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Iraq's hostage crisis continued unabated Thursday, with one group of insurgents claiming it had killed 11 Iraqi national guardsmen, another saying it had kidnapped a Polish worker and a third remaining silent on the fate of a Japanese hostage after a deadline passed.

Several groups announced that they would march Friday to call for the release of Margaret Hassan, the Baghdad director of CARE International, who was kidnapped last week.

The Ansar al-Sunnah Army insurgent group posted a video on its Web site showing what it said was the execution of the national guardsmen. In the video, one person was beheaded and the remaining 10 were shot in the head. The group also posted a statement saying it had captured the guardsmen on the highway between Baghdad and Hillah.

A senior Defense Ministry official said the ministry had investigated and didn't think the men killed were guardsmen.

"We don't have any missing guards from our units. This information is not true," said the official, who asked not to be named. "Perhaps those who were captured were former national guardsmen."

In its statement, the Ansar al-Sunnah Army said it investigated the men and after hearing "their confessions, it turned out this group was responsible for guarding the Crusader American troops in Radwaniya area and what's around it in southern Baghdad."

Soon after word of the men's execution hit Arabic news channels, al-Jazeera aired a video of a middle-aged woman with three men standing behind her, including one hold a handgun to her head.

Although the tape wasn't audible, al-Jazeera said a group calling itself the Abu Bakr al-Siddiq Fundamentalist Brigades said the unidentified woman was Polish and worked with U.S. troops. The group demanded that Poland withdraw its troops from Iraq and that all female prisoners be released.

Poland has about 2,400 troops in Iraq, the fifth largest number behind the United States, Great Britain, Italy and Australia.

In Warsaw, Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski said the government wouldn't withdraw troops, telling a Polish television station: "The Polish government is not in the business of meeting kidnappers' demands"

The Iraqi government said it thought the woman had been taken from her home in Baghdad.

The fate of Japanese hostage Shosei Koda was unknown. The 24-year-old had appeared on a video Tuesday, saying his captors would behead him if his nation didn't withdraw its troops.

Behind him was a sign that read "al-Qaeda Organization of Holy War of Mesopotamia," the group led by Jordanian terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. That group has claimed responsibility for numerous beheadings, including those of Americans Eugene "Jack" Armstrong and Jack Hensley and Briton Kenneth Bigley.

The group gave the Japanese government 48 hours to withdraw its 500 troops from the country, a demand that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi rejected. On Thursday, the prime minister appeared on Arabic television to urge the kidnappers to release Koda.

Members of Koda's family said they had had no idea he was in Iraq and that he had been traveling around the world. He reportedly arrived in Baghdad on Sunday.

The Women's Will organization, a women's advocacy group, said it would march Friday to the Abu Hanisa Mosque, a Sunni Muslim mosque in Baghdad, to demand the release of Hassan, a British-born Iraqi citizen who's in charge of CARE's Iraq operations. The group said several Shiite Muslim groups would join in the march.


(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.