BAGHDAD, Iraq – An Iraqi militant group appealed Sunday to an influential Sunni Muslim (search) organization for a fatwa religious edict on whether the kidnapping of foreigners who work for occupation forces is acceptable under Islam.
A spokesman for the Association of Muslim Scholars (search) said its clerics will study the militants' request, saying the issue was "not easy" and needs "profound study."
The militants' appeal came as a Turkish transport company and a Kuwaiti firm that contracted it announced Sunday they have stopped doing business in Iraq in an attempt to secure the release of a Turkish driver taken hostage by Iraqi militants and under a threat of beheading.
In a fresh kidnapping report, an Iraqi militant group said it has abducted four Jordanian truck drivers who it claims were delivering items for U.S. forces in Iraq, according to a tape obtained by the Al-Jazeera TV station.
Also Sunday, a slain Egyptian kidnap victim was found near Beiji, about 150 miles north of Baghdad, his hands bound and signs of a beating on his corpse, said Iraqi Maj. Gen. Anwar Mohammed Amin (search). Amin said the Egyptian was believed to have been kidnapped a month ago.
Militants waging a 16-month insurgency have increasingly turned to kidnapping to force coalition forces and contractors from the country. More than 100 foreigners have been abducted since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2002 and many have been executed.
The Arab television station Al-Arabiya on Sunday aired a videotape showed a masked man identifying himself as a member of the group "Holders of the Black Banners," reading a statement seeking a "fatwa," or religious edict, from the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq.
The militants asked whether Islam permits the kidnapping and killing of foreigners who work for occupation forces, saying the association should "issue a legal fatwa defining this issue, and we are ready to abide by it."
A number of Sunni insurgent groups are believed behind most of the abductions, and it was not known whether other groups would follow such a fatwa.
Abdel Satar Abdel Jabar, a spokesman for the Association of Muslim Scholars, said the clerics will study the militants' request.
"To issue an edict on such a subject is not an easy task. Such a call needs a profound study," he said.
The association, made up mainly of conservative clerics, has played a leading role in winning the release of some hostages. The group says it has no connection to kidnappers or insurgents, but it is believed to have contacts with them.
The Holders of the Black Banner recently kidnapped seven truck drivers from India, Kenya and Egypt. The drivers were released after weeks in captivity.
The French government, meanwhile, huddled in crisis talks over the fate of two French reporters held hostage by a separate group in Iraq and said it was still hopeful the pair would be released.
In the past week, militants have killed an Italian journalist and 12 Nepalese workers, while seven truckers from India, Kenya and Egypt were released after their Kuwaiti employer paid a $500,000 ransom. A video last week also showed three Turks being killed by their captors.
The report of a new abduction — of four Jordanians — came in a videotape that Al-Jazeera received from a previously unknown group, called the Shura Council of Fallujah Mujahedeen, an editor at the station said.
"This is a final warning to all those cooperating with U.S. forces in Iraq," a militant said in a statement heard on the tape without issuing a direct threat against the drivers, the editor said.
The claim couldn't be independently verified. Fallujah is a hotbed of anti-U.S. violence west of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.
Two more companies said Sunday they were leaving Iraq after militants kidnapped an employee and threatened to behead him. One of the companies, Kuwait Falcon had contracted with the other, Turkish transport company Renay International based in Antakya, southern Turkey, for some hauls in Iraq.
"As of this morning, I stopped all my trucks from entering Iraq," Ghassan Jasim Abbel, owner of the Kuwait Falcon Co., told The Associated Press.
A partner in Renay, Edip Rende, said the Turkish firm as well "is ending activities in Iraq. We hope that our driver is safely returned to our country and to his family," according to Turkey's Anatolia news agency.
In a video aired Saturday on Al-Arabiya, a group calling itself the Islamic Resistance Movement - Al-Noaman Brigades said it was holding the Turk and threatened to behead him unless his employers and their Kuwaiti contractor end operations in Iraq.
Anatolia identified the captured Turk as Mithat Civi, a 48-year-old father of three who had been working in Kuwait but left for Iraq a month ago.