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Last Updated: Monday, 27 September, 2004, 16:13 GMT 17:13 UK
Kidnapped Iranian diplomat freed
Fereidoun Jahani'
Mr Jahani was the second foreign diplomat taken hostage in Iraq
An Iranian diplomat who was kidnapped in Iraq in early August has been freed.

Fereidoun Jahani arrived at the Iranian embassy in Baghdad on Monday afternoon, embassy officials said.

He was abducted as he travelled from Baghdad to the Shia Muslim holy city of Karbala, in central Iraq, where he had been due to start work as the consul.

Meanwhile, Paul Bigley, the brother of British hostage Ken Bigley says he has new information to say his brother is still alive.

Talks

Iran's foreign ministry said Mr Jahani was released after persistent diplomatic efforts and with the help of the Iraqi interim government.

Through talks with my kidnappers, they were convinced it was not Iran's intention to interfere in their state matters
Fereidoun Jahani

"Through talks with my kidnappers, they were convinced it was not Iran's intention to interfere in their state matters... therefore they released me," Mr Jahani was quoted as saying by Iran's state television who interviewed him in Baghdad.

Officials said Mr Jahani was in good health.

"Let him rest a little and we can answer all your questions," said one official, who declined to be named.

Mr Jahani was the second foreign diplomat to be taken hostage in Iraq. In July, an Egyptian embassy official was held for three days by a group calling itself the Lions of Allah Brigade. The release follows a period of tension between Baghdad and Tehran.

Some members of the Iraqi interim government have accused Iran of interfering in Iraqi affairs and of causing trouble in Najaf.

Iran denies all the charges and has always stated it is striving for a stable and secure Iraq.

A high-ranking Iraqi political delegation visited Iran at the end of August in what was seen as a fence-mending exercise designed to pave the way for a later visit by Iraq's interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

Foreigners targeted

Mr Jahani was kidnapped on 4 August. Days later, a group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq released a video showing Mr Jahani's passport and business card.

The group accused Iran of interfering in Iraq's affairs, but it did not make any demands or threats.

More recently, the BBC's Frances Harrison in Tehran says the group threatened to kill Mr Jahani if Iran did not release 500 prisoners it said had been held since the Iran-Iraq war, which ended 16 years ago.

Iran denied it was still holding the prisoners.

The same militant group has said it is holding two French journalists, Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot.

Simona Torretta and Simona Pari
Two Italian aid workers are still being held in Iraq
More than 100 foreigners have been seized since March 2003. Most have been freed but at least 27 have been killed, including two American engineers abducted with Mr Bigley on 16 September.

A much greater number of Iraqis have also been kidnapped - in most cases for ransom.

Foreign hostages still being held include two female Italian aid workers and six Egyptian civilians working for a mobile phone company.

On Monday, Jordan's King Abdullah told an Italian newspaper he believed Italians Simona Torretta and Simona Pari were alive.

The king, who is scheduled to visit Italy on Tuesday, told Corriere della Sera that Jordan was working with Italy to secure their release.

"The information that I have, at this moment, is that both the hostages are alive," King Abdullah told the newspaper.

"With the help of intelligence, we are trying to trying to locate them, and we are using all our contacts with leaders and groups within Iraq to obtain their release."





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