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Last Updated: Friday, 8 October, 2004, 19:34 GMT 20:34 UK
Was Ken Bigley doomed from start?

Paul Reynolds
BBC world affairs correspondent

There was a terrible inevitability about Kenneth Bigley's fate.

He had the misfortune of falling into the hands of the most extreme rebel group in Iraq, led by al-Qaeda sympathiser Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
Zarqawi sought civil war in Iraq
The group's intentions and capability were amply demonstrated when the two Americans with whom Mr Bigley had shared a house in Baghdad and with whom he was seized were beheaded - as others had been before them.

That left Kenneth Bigley on his own. In an apparent attempt to force a split between the US and British governments, he was put on videotape pleading for his life and asking Tony Blair personally to meet the kidnappers' demand that Iraqi women prisoners should be freed.

On one tape he also urged that foreign forces leave Iraq.

But there was never any chance that the US or British governments were going to negotiate.

In the current circumstances in Iraq they cannot afford to show weakness in the face of such a threat.

Not only would it have gone against their own principle that they do not negotiate with hostage takers but it would have undermined the interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

Zarqawi has had the publicity of fear that he wanted
He takes just as firm a stand and his own power depends on the defeat of rebels like Zarqawi.

It is not even clear, and probably never will be, whether the demand was a real one in that, if accepted, the hostages would have been released or whether it was made in the knowledge that it would be refused.

Zarqawi has had the publicity of fear that he wanted.

It is his aim not just to drive out the Americans and other foreign troops.

Trained in ruthlessness

An intercepted CD on which there was a letter believed to be from him to al-Qaeda leaders indicated that he sought civil war in Iraq between the Sunnis, of which he is one, as is Osama bin Laden, and the Shias.

Only then could the extreme al-Qaeda doctrine of re-establishing the medieval Caliphate in Baghdad have a chance of success.
Beheading appears to have been a technique taught in the camps of Afghanistan

By murdering hostages, he has demonstrated the ruthlessness which al-Qaeda has trained its supporters in.

Beheading appears to have been a technique taught in the camps of Afghanistan. The American journalist Daniel Pearl was beheaded by his captors in Pakistan.

The British policy not to negotiate for hostages has hardened up since the emergence of al-Qaeda.

During a briefing for reporters at the Foreign Office just after Mr Bigley had been captured, a senior diplomat who had himself been briefly kidnapped in Lebanon during his career remarked that he hoped that no concessions would be made.

Heath negotiations

Diplomats in particular believe that they would be at greater risk if bargains were struck. They are safer, they think, if they have no value for the hostage takers.

Ken Bigley
Was Ken Bigley's fate inevitable?
The same government policy applies to private citizens who are taken as hostages. The government will not prevent a ransom being paid but will not encourage it.

There was a time when a British government did negotiate. In 1970, recently released documents have revealed, the Conservative government of Edward Heath freed a Palestinian hijacker, Leila Khaled, in exchange for passengers from three planes which had been hijacked and taken to the Jordanian desert.

Sir Denis Greenhill, the senior civil servant in the Foreign Office, told an American official: "If it all comes out that we could have got our people out but for the obduracy of you and other people so to speak... I mean people say 'Why the bloody hell didn't you try.'"

These days the British attitude is firmer, though whether it might weaken if woman and children were ever again the hostages is not entirely certain. It probably depends on the circumstances.

For Kenneth Bigley the circumstances could not have been worse.


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