CARE Chief Abducted in Iraq; Mortars Kill 4

Times Staff Writer

The woman who directs the humanitarian relief effort in Iraq for CARE International was kidnapped today in Baghdad, and the U.S. military said four Iraqi national guardsmen died in a mortar attack and up to 80 were injured.

British-born Margaret Hassan, an Iraqi national who directs the humanitarian effort from Baghdad, was taken captive this morning, reportedly while being driven to work in the western part of the city, according to the Associated Press.

Al Jazeera broadcast footage of Hassan, who has performed humanitarian work in Iraq for 25 years. She sat on a couch without gunmen present, but was apparently in captivity. She did not speak. The network said an “armed Iraqi group” had claimed responsibility for the abduction, but no demands were made known.

Hassan became one of a handful of female kidnapping victims in Iraq. Insurgents typically have vented their violence toward men, but not exclusively. In September, two female Italian aid workers were taken hostage in Baghdad for three weeks but were released unharmed.

The rebels’ wrath has caused some humanitarian groups to fear for their workers’ safety and have pulled out of the country since May 2003, when President Bush declared major fighting was over.

CARE officials said they were uncertain why Hassan was abducted. “As far as we know, Margaret is unharmed,” CARE said in a statement. “Needless to say, we are doing whatever we can to secure her release.”

Iraqi guardsmen based near Taji, a town north of Baghdad, were shelled about 9:45 a.m. Coalition forces flew by helicopters up to 80 guardsmen injured in the attack to a hospital, the U.S. military said.

Also today, a separate mortar attack in cental Baghdad killed an American working for Kellogg Brown & Root, an engineering subsidiary of Houston-based Halliburton.

The kidnapping and mortar attacks came as Iraqi and U.S. officials had been anticipating a repeat of the surge in attacks that ushered in the Islamic holy month of Ramadan last year. The period of fasting began last week.

Last November, CARE’s office came under fire from rocket-propelled grenades, but no one was injured in the attack. The charity has operated in Iraq since 1991, primarily working on healthcare, education, water and sanitation issues.

Founded in 1945 to give relief to World War II survivors, CARE has grown into one of the world’s largest private humanitarian groups.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.