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Militants post plea to Blair from British hostage

A militant group that beheaded two American engineers this week posted a video on the Internet Wednesday showing a third hostage, Kenneth Bigley, a Briton, pleading for his life.

The 11-minute video shows Bigley sitting in front of a black banner identifying the group, One God and Jihad, led by the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The group said in an Internet message that it would kill Bigley unless U.S.-led forces in Iraq freed all female prisoners.

In the video, Bigley states his name and hometown, Liverpool, before appealing to Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain.

"I need you to be compassionate as you always said you were and help me, help me to live," he says. "I don't want to die. I don't deserve that."

"Please, please, please release the female prisoners that are held in Iraqi prisons," he continues. "Please help them."

Bigley was kidnapped along with the two Americans, Eugene Armstrong and Jack Hensley, last week in Baghdad.

Zarqawi's group beheaded Armstrong on Monday and Hensley on Tuesday when their 48-hour deadline to free imprisoned women was not met. U.S. soldiers recovered the body of Hensley on Wednesday in Baghdad, a U.S. Embassy official said, and a video of his beheading appeared Wednesday on the Internet.

The U.S. military has said it is holding only two women: Rihab Rashid Taha, a scientist known as "Dr. Germ" for her work on an anthrax program, and Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash, a researcher known as "Mrs. Anthrax."

A senior military officer said on Wednesday that a review board of the multinational forces had recommended two weeks ago that Taha be released, along with 13 other prominent security prisoners. Those cases were then turned over to the Iraqi government, which recently approved the board's decision, the officer said. The prisoners are awaiting final word from the office of Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq, he added.

Taha and the other 13 prisoners will probably be released within a couple of weeks, the officer said.

As for Ammash, the Iraqi government asked sometime before the hostages were taken that she be freed on humanitarian grounds, he said. She must go through the entire review process, he said, and the final arbiter in her case will be the Defense Department rather than Casey's office, because she is among the 55 Iraqis on the Pentagon's most-wanted list.

In other news around Iraq:

Violence continued to surge in the capital as two suicide car bombs exploded in the city. The first bomb detonated at about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday in western Baghdad, on a street corner where recruits for the Iraqi National Guard had gathered, killing at least 11 people and wounding scores more. The second car bomb exploded Wednesday afternoon in the affluent neighborhood of Mansour. Five U.S. soldiers on patrol were injured, with one later dying of wounds at a medical center, the military said.

A soldier in the northern city of Mosul died of injuries following an ambush by insurgents. A soldier in Tikrit was killed by a roadside bomb. At least 1,040 U.S. soldiers have died since the start of the war.

The Associated Press reported that a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad on Sept. 17 killed Sheik Abu Anas al-Shami, the spiritual leader of One God and Jihad. The report quoted Shami's family and clerics living in Jordan, where the sheik had citizenship. Jordanian and U.S. officials did not confirm the killing.

U.S. aircraft and tanks attacked Shiite militia positions in Baghdad's Sadr City slum, killing 10 people and injuring 92 others, hospital officials said.

NATO agreed to the outlines of a military officer training program in Iraq, expanding the alliance's presence there after overcoming resistance from several members, most notably France. Under the agreement, about 300 NATO officers will be sent to Iraq to set up and administer a military academy at Rustamaniya, outside Baghdad. The academy will help prepare mid-level and senior officers in Iraq's security forces.

A major bridge across the Tigris River was reopened, a year and a half after U.S. warplanes destroyed it. Rebuilding the quarter-mile span over the Tigris River was fraught with delays and tragedy. Workers for a Turkey-based subcontractor suffered several attacks, including an ambush last month that left an engineer, a crane operator and two other employees dead.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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