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Last Updated: Friday, 13 August, 2004, 14:37 GMT 15:37 UK
Profile: James Brandon
James Brandon pictured with kidnapper
James Brandon pictured with one of his kidnappers
James Brandon is a young journalist who has sought to make a name for himself working in the Middle East.

Friends and colleagues who he met while working in Iraq say that although he was a lot younger than many reporters, he appears to be aware of the risks involved in working in the country and takes precautions.

Little is known of his career before he went to the Middle East but Mr Brandon, 23, is believed to have started out in journalism in Yemen, shortly after leaving university.

Journalism friends from Iraq say he told them he used his four months with the English language Yemen Times learning Arabic and building up his skills as someone reporting on the oil industry.

Mr Brandon first went to Iraq about a year ago when he was recruited by an ambitious British-American project called the Baghdad Bulletin, one of an estimated 70 newspapers which began publishing after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Baghdad Bulletin, which has since folded, sought to cover social issues in the capital and also contribute to the reconstruction effort by bringing the two sides together.

I was interviewing a couple of fighters on a residential street in Basra when a women came out of a nearby house to give them cups of tea - in the middle of a semi-war zone it was an unexpectedly kind gesture and it suddenly reminded me of home
James Brandon, reporting for the Christian Science Monitor
After the failure of Baghdad Bulletin, Mr Brandon went to work for another English publication, Iraq Today, where he was a sub-editor.

David Enders, one of James' colleagues at the Baghdad Bulletin, said that he was in shock at seeing pictures of his friend on television.

He left Baghdad last weekend for other assignments - and had spent his final night in the Iraqi capital with his British friend.

"James is a good friend and colleague," Mr Enders told the BBC from Jordan. "We spent Saturday night having a few beers and joking around before I prepared to leave.

"He's quiet, softly spoken and can appear reserved, but he has a great sense of humour and I thought I saw him attempt a smile on the kidnap video, which would be just like him."

Mr Enders said that although James was young, he had spent an "immense" amount of time in Iraq and had considerable experience."

"He was very cogent about the dangers," he said. "Freelancers tend to know more of what is going on because they are somewhere for a lot longer. He had reported from all the major locations, Baghad, Tikrit, and had been to Basra before."

Tea with the militia

This year, the young British journalist has been filing daily reports on the price of the Iraqi Dinar and other oil-related stories to business publications.

James Brandon
Mr Brandon was seized from hotel
He also filed occasional articles to the US newspaper Christian Science Monitor.

Hours before his kidnap, he had filed a despatch to that newspaper, describing how the Mehdi Army fighters were welcomed by local people and given cups of tea (see internet links for full despatch).

"I was interviewing a couple of fighters on a residential street in Basra when a women came out of a nearby house to give them cups of tea, and a plate full of biscuits and homemade cake," he reported.

"In the middle of a semi-war zone it was an unexpectedly kind and honest gesture that it suddenly reminded me of home.

"True to Arab hospitality, the fighters then tried to give the refreshments all to me."

New challenge

Mr Brandon had only recently begun working for the Sunday Telegraph and the Scotsman after being recommended to the newspaper by a colleague who was leaving the country.

Colin Freeman, a freelance colleague recently injured after being shot in Basra, shared a hotel with Mr Brandon in Baghdad.

He said the young man speaks a lot more Arabic than other British journalists in the region.

"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.

"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."

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