[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Friday, 13 August, 2004, 13:50 GMT 14:50 UK
UK journalist kidnapped in Basra
Video footage of Mr Brandon
The kidnappers have released a video of Mr Brandon
Iraqi militants have threatened to kill a British journalist kidnapped in Basra unless US forces pull out of Najaf.

James Brandon, 23, a freelance reporter for the Sunday Telegraph, was kidnapped after 30 masked gunmen stormed into his hotel at 2300 (1900 GMT) on Thursday.

Hours later a video tape was released showing a hooded militant standing next to Mr Brandon, threatening to kill him.

Mr Brandon's captors now say his release is "imminent", according to the Reuters news agency.

The announcement follows mediation from radical Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr, unconfirmed reports say.

Iraqi militants have been waging a kidnapping campaign against Westerners in recent months.

On the video, released on Friday, the gunman is heard saying "we demand the American forces withdraw from Najaf within 24 hours or we will kill this British hostage".

"I'm a journalist, I just write about what is happening in Iraq... [I'm] James Brandon from the Sunday Telegraph," Mr Brandon, who is from London, says to the camera.

'Two shots'

A hotel employee said the gunmen burst into the Hotel Al-Diafa and demanded the receptionist show them the guest book, according to the AFP news agency.

"One of them then said 'how dare you have foreigners in your hotel' and then they stormed upstairs," the employee reportedly said.

"We then heard two shots and minutes later they were dragging the British journalist down and he was bleeding."

The UK Foreign Office confirmed Mr Brandon's identity and said officials were now in touch with his next of kin.

Army spokesman Major Ian Clooney told the BBC that officers were working with the Iraqi police service and authorities "to try and find out exactly what has happened".

Security precautions

Sunday Telegraph Deputy Editor Matthew d'Ancona said Mr Brandon was in Basra filing material for this Sunday's newspaper amongst other projects.

He was also working for a number of different newspapers including The Scotsman and The Independent.

Colin Freeman, a British journalist who recently returned from Iraq, shared the same hotel as Mr Brandon in the Iraqi capital Baghdad over the past year.

Mr Freeman was himself shot and injured while covering a demonstration in Basra in May.

James has lived in Iraq for a long time now and knows what to do in terms of security
Colin Freeman
Journalist

He said Mr Brandon spoke more Arabic than a lot of other British journalists in the country and was well aware of the risks.

He took the same security precautions as other journalists, said Mr Freeman, including choosing hotels where he would not stand out.

"If he was travelling to somewhere like Basra he would normally have had a driver and so on, people who speak fluent Iraqi Arabic and know how to deal with situations," said Mr Freeman.

"James has lived in Iraq for a long time now and knows what to do in terms of security. It's been fairly well known how dangerous Basra can be after what happened to me.

"James would have been well aware of the dangers and that you cannot assume that Basra is any safer than other parts of Iraq."

Hassan Fattah Pasha, editor of the Iraq Today newspaper where Mr Brandon used to work, said he was a "fine young man" who was in Iraq "to get his teeth wet" in journalism.

"He is a very, very eager, smart reporter and it was clear he was going to go places", Mr Pasha told the BBC.

"He certainly took to Iraq, he enjoyed being there and had made a lot of friends."

Increasing tension

News of the kidnap came one day after a Shia group, called Abu al-Abbas, issued a statement threatening to kill all those cooperating with British troops in retaliation for the US-led assault on Najaf.

The latest kidnapping comes amid increasing tension in Basra.

Two British soldiers have been killed there in the last week in clashes with forces loyal to cleric Mr Sadr.

More than 70 foreigners have been taken hostage in Iraq in recent months.

About 20 are still being held and at least eight hostages have been executed.

On Friday, a temporary truce appeared to be in force in Najaf after more than a week of heavy fighting.

Officials said talks were taking place between Mr Sadr's aides and the Iraqi government.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Jake Lynch
"Earlier his life appeared under imminent threat"



RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific