BASRA, Iraq – Militants in the southern Iraqi city of Basra released a British journalist they kidnapped and threatened to kill after aides to militant Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr (search) demanded Friday that he be freed.
James Brandon (search), 23, who works for the Sunday Telegraph, was abducted from the Diafa Hotel (search) late Thursday by about 30 gunmen. In a video given later to Associated Press Television News, he was shown standing bare-chested with his head bandaged.
Brandon was brought to al-Sadr's local office and freed. He held an impromptu news conference there and thanked the kidnappers and al-Sadr's aides for working for his release.
"I'm OK, I'm recovering," he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "I've been released thanks to (al-Sadr's) Mahdi Army, because they intervened and negotiated with the kidnappers."
During his news conference, he appeared to have a black eye.
The militants said they took Brandon hostage to protest the U.S. military presence in Najaf, where coalition forces have been fighting al-Sadr's militia for several days. They threatened to kill him within 24 hours.
In London, Sunday Telegraph Deputy Editor Matthew d'Ancona said Brandon was in Iraq for several projects, including filing reports for Sunday's newspaper.
In the video, a bandaged Brandon turned to a masked captor and said the "Telegraph, that's my paper. I'm a journalist. I just write about what's happening in Iraq."
One masked captor put a hand on Brandon's shoulder and said, "We are the sons of the Iraqi people. We demand the withdrawal of the occupation forces from the holy city of Najaf in 24 hours; otherwise we will kill this British hostage."
Kidnappers in Iraq have seized dozens of hostages in recent months, threatening to kill them in an effort to drive out coalition forces and companies that support them. Most kidnappers have been Sunni insurgents.
Ahmed al-Khalisy, head of al-Sadr's office in Basra, condemned the kidnapping and called for Brandon's immediate release.
At that point, his kidnappers — who beat him, threatened to kill him and even used an unloaded gun in a mock execution — changed their attitude, he said.
"They just told me they realized I was a journalist and they said I was going to be let go," he said. "I didn't quite believe it until it actually happened."