Humanitarian worker seized

Margaret Hassan's NGO suspends all activities till her release.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Care International halted all its activities in Iraq after Margaret Hassan, head of its local charity operations, was seized in Baghdad yesterday morning. A scared Hassan –who is Irish-born and holds British and Iraqi citizenship– was later shown on video in the hands of her captors.

Robert Glasser, chief executive of Care Australia, who coordinates aid in Iraq with Ms Hassan, said that the humanitarian organisation would cease operations till she was freed. "Needless to say we're doing whatever we can to secure her release at this point."

Care International is involved in 72 countries. It is present in Iraq since the 1991 Gulf war where it provides emergency aid as well as health and water treatment assistance. It employs about 30 people, all Iraqis.

Speaking on al-Jazeera, Margaret's husband, Tahseen Ali Hassan, who holds British and Iraqi citizenship, said that her wife had not received threats before. She was seized around 7:30 am when two cars blocked her as she was driving to work. Since then the kidnappers have not made any contact.

With this abduction, terrorists have once again targeted aid workers hoping that foreigners will leave the country. Mr Hassan's seizure resembles that of Italian aid workers Simona Pari and Simona Torretta. In both cases, the victims were women, taken at work or going to work, employed in Iraq over a long period of time for humanitarian organisations (in Ms Hassan's case, 30 years) that can hardly be accused of collaborating with the occupiers. In both cases, the kidnappers showed disregard for Islamic precepts which require the protection of women and in both cases the action provoked indignation in parts of the Muslim world react.

 "My wife was well loved by everyone, "Mr Hassan said. "This [Care] is a humanitarian organisation which has been serving the people of Iraq for 30 years."

Ideel Jafferi, a spokesperson for Islamic Relief, said staff "was praying for her". He stated: "We call for whoever is holding her hostage to think of her family and the good work she is doing in Iraq and release her as soon as possible to let her carry on with the good work."

"It's Ramadan," he added, "a time of peace and goodwill, and in this particularly holy month they must think of the family of Margaret and the people she is trying to help."