Hopes rise for British journalist after interpreter freed

A British journalist kidnapped in Iraq could be released today after his interpreter was freed yesterday, reports suggest.

The two employees of US television network CBS were seized by gunmen on Sunday near their hotel in the centre of Basra.

Last night a spokesman for radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr told Iraqi news agency Aswat al-Iraq (Voice of Iraq) that the media assistant had already been freed.

Sheikh Ali al-Sa'aidi told Voice of Iraq that a deal had also been struck to free the British journalist, but that no time had been set for his release. Earlier reports, however, suggested that it could be as early as this morning.

The British Foreign Office said last night that it was "looking into reports of his imminent release".

Meanwhile, the journalist's wife said: "We are keeping our fingers crossed".

The CBS employees were snatched by armed men outside the Qasr al-Sultan hotel in central Basra.

Expectations of both men's release followed an announcement by Harith al-Edhari, a director of Mr al-Sadr's office, that negotiations had persuaded the captors to free the two CBS employees.

The kidnapped Briton is a photojournalist with experience of covering conflicts around the world. He was one of only a few freelance photographers in Baghdad to record its fall in early 2003.

He has worked for publications including The Sunday Telegraph, The New York Times and The Financial Times.

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