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US teams 'tried to free hostages'

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US teams 'tried to free hostages'

American rescue teams tried at least twice to free two US citizens and a Briton taken hostage in Iraq and later killed, sources say in Washington.

Eugene Armstrong and Jack Hensley were killed soon after their abduction on 16 September while British man Kenneth Bigley was beheaded last week.

Rescuers acting on intelligence reports reportedly went to two sites in Baghdad but on both occasions found nothing.

"They just got there and nobody was there," the unnamed sources said.

All three men, who had been working as engineers in Iraq, were killed on camera by an Islamist group believed to be led by Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Mr Bigley, 62, was allowed by his captors to issue desperate appeals for his release on video before he was finally beheaded, three weeks after his capture.

Iraqi reports say he tried to flee from his captors shortly before his death.

Two attempts

According to a US source, rescue attempts were carried out early on in the hostage drama - the first when all three of the hostages were thought to be still alive and the second after the first American, Mr Armstrong, had been killed.

"We don't really know whether the men were ever at the spots," one official told Reuters news agency on condition of anonymity.

"But there were attempts to get them."

US defence officials insisted at the time that considerable efforts were being made to try to get the hostages released.

On Tuesday, UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the Commons that an intermediary had passed messages to the militants holding Mr Bigley, urging them not to kill their captive.

"But at no stage did they abandon their demands relating to the release of women prisoners, even though they were well aware that there are no women prisoners in British custody in Iraq."

He added that there would be "a full internal review of what we have done, a look at whether there were other things could have done which might have made a difference".

"I genuinely don't think there are, however," he said.

Mr Bigley's family, meanwhile, thanked the public for its support.

Mr Bigley's 65-year-old brother, Stan, said the display of solidarity had made the family's three-week ordeal "a little more bearable".

Story from BBC NEWS:

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