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CARE worker who aided Iraqis for years believed slain

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Aid worker Margaret Hassan, who spent decades helping Iraqis before she was kidnapped in Baghdad last month, is believed to have been murdered by her captors.

"Our hearts our broken," Hassan's family said in a statement issued Tuesday through the British government. "We have kept hoping for as long as we could, but now have to accept that Margaret has probably gone and at last her suffering has ended."

Arabic television station al-Jazeera reported Tuesday that it had received a videotape showing a hooded man shooting a blindfolded woman in an orange jumpsuit, apparently Hassan, in the head with a pistol. A station spokesman said the footage wouldn't be aired.

Also on Tuesday, U.S. and Iraqi forces battled insurgents who rose up last week in the northern city of Mosul after U.S. forces attacked Fallujah, a center of the Sunni Muslim insurgency west of Baghdad. A U.S. military spokeswoman said U.S. and Iraqi forces encountered little resistance Tuesday in Mosul and that the city of 1.5 million people was calm after nightfall.

The U.S. military also announced on Tuesday that it had launched an investigation into the killing Saturday of an apparently wounded and unarmed "enemy combatant" in a mosque by a Marine during the battle for Fallujah.

A journalist working for NBC who was embedded with the Marine's unit filmed the close-range shooting. Aired on Tuesday, the images were repeatedly broadcast on English and Arabic channels.

The investigation into the shooting began immediately after the incident came to light, Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, the commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force announced Tuesday.

The investigation aims to determine whether the Marine acted in self-defense, violated military law or failed to comply with the Law of Armed Conflict. The Marine has been removed from the field pending the investigation's outcome.

Gunmen seized Hassan, the Irish-born director for CARE International in Iraq, on Oct. 19 as she was driving to work.

Her family in Britain said Hassan "was a friend of the Arab world" who began her charity work with Palestinians in the 1960s and worked in Iraq for 30 years. She converted to Islam, married an Iraqi and remained in the country to help the poor during the regime of Saddam Hussein and the U.S.-led invasion to oust him.

"Those who are guilty of this atrocious act, and those who support them, have no excuses," her family said. "Nobody can justify this."

Her captors demanded that British troops leave Iraq and released videotapes of her in tears pleading for her life.

If Hassan is the woman on the tape, she'd be the first foreign woman known to have been abducted and killed by militants in Iraq. She held both British and Iraqi citizenship.

Marines on Sunday found the mutilated body of another woman on a street in Fallujah. The woman was Caucasian and blonde, perhaps a Westerner. Her identity was under investigation, Iraqi Interior Minister Falah al Naqib said Tuesday in Baghdad.

Other than Hassan, the only other Western woman believed to be held by militants in Iraq is Polish-born Teresa Borcz Khalifa, 54, a longtime resident of Iraq who was kidnapped last month.

In response to Hassan's presumed murder, CARE issued a statement in Amman, Jordan: "We are shocked and appalled that this has been the apparent outcome of her abduction.

"Mrs. Hassan was an extraordinary woman who dedicated her life to the poor and disadvantaged in Iraq, particularly the children."

CARE, a humanitarian organization dedicated to poverty relief, said Hassan had "assisted more than 17 million Iraqis living in the most difficult circumstances."

She helped Iraqis in other ways, too.

Among them was Dr. Qidar al Chalabi, director of Baghdad's al Qif Hospital for patients with spinal cord injuries. After the hospital was severely damaged last year in a car bombing that targeted the nearby United Nations headquarters, Hassan worked hard to reopen it.

She raised thousands of dollars and supervised the smallest details, down to importing the best hospital beds, al Chalabi said.

"She was unforgettable," he said. "At a time when there was no government, no authority, no security, she rebuilt a hospital in six months."

Even after seeing her deteriorating condition in three hostage videos, al Chalabi said he held out hope that she'd be released. He was sure that her captors would consider her opposition to the war, her stance against U.N. economic sanctions and the aid she brought to some of her adopted country's neediest residents.

"We should make a statue for her in the center of Baghdad," al Chalabi said. "But even that wouldn't be enough to thank her for all she did for Iraq."

Hassan was kidnapped at a time when foreigners in Iraq, already targets for militants, had grown even more concerned about being targeted for abduction or violence. Even earlier, in May 2003, Hassan told Knight Ridder that she feared the deteriorating security situation.

"The whole place will explode if we don't have security," she said.

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(Knight Ridder Newspapers special correspondent Omar Jassim contributed to this report.)

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

Iraq

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