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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 January 2006, 19:03 GMT
Iraq detainees to be freed early
Jill Carroll in a still from a video shown on al-Jazeera
Hostage takers demanded on Tuesday that women be freed
Iraq's ministry of justice has told the BBC that six of the eight women being held by coalition forces in Iraq are to be released early.

The six will be freed because there is insufficient evidence to charge them, a justice ministry spokesman said.

The US forces have refused to confirm the releases, but say they would not be based on any operational activities.

The group holding US journalist Jill Carroll has said she will die unless all Iraqi women prisoners are freed.

The status of prisoners held by coalition forces is reviewed twice a week by a committee made up of the justice, human rights and interior ministries, and a representative of the US-led coalition.

Map showing location of Iraq and Baghdad
The justice ministry spokesman said it was this committee which had studied the cases of the six women and found insufficient evidence against them.

However, the US military stressed that decisions over such matters were a detailed process that were unrelated to any other operational activity.

The demand that all Iraqi female prisoners held by coalition forces should be released was made in a video of Ms Carroll which aired on Arab TV channel al-Jazeera on Tuesday.

Her captors said the 28-year-old journalist would be killed within 72 hours if their demand was not met.

The video showed Ms Carroll apparently speaking to the camera, but did not include her voice.

Al-Jazeera did not say where it got the tape. The station itself has called for her release.

It was the first sighting of Ms Carroll since gunmen abducted her in Baghdad 10 days earlier, fatally wounding her translator during the attack.

Past demands

She is the 31st foreign journalist kidnapped in Iraq since the invasion almost three years ago, according to Reporters Sans Frontieres.

Ms Carroll has been a freelance reporter for the Christian Science Monitor newspaper, among others.

She had been reporting from the Middle East for Jordanian, Italian and other media organisations for the past three years, the Christian Science Monitor said in a statement.

The Monitor describes itself as a non-religious newspaper.

It is not the first time that the abductors of Western hostages in Iraq have called for the release of women prisoners.

In October 2004, Briton Ken Bigley and two American hostages were beheaded by members of al-Qaeda in Iraq, who had demanded female prisoners be freed.

At the time the Bush administration said that only two women were being held in Iraq - Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash, nicknamed by the US "Mrs Anthrax" and Rihab Taha, also known as "Dr Germ".

The pair were amongst a group of eight senior aides to former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein who were released in December 2005.

In November 2004, British aid worker Margaret Hassan was abducted and murdered in Iraq. Before her death she appeared in a similar hostage video calling for foreign troop withdrawals and the release of women prisoners.

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