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27 militants held in raid

BAQUBA: Iraqi forces seized 27 Islamic militants in Baquba, 60km north of Baghdad, yesterday along with weapons and leaflets linked to the Al Qaeda network, the army said.

"Sixteen of the arrested, including two Egyptians, are wanted by authorities for crimes they are believed to have been committed," said Colonel Ismael Ibrahim.

"Large quantities of weapons were seized ... and leaflets of the Jordanian Islamist Abu Musab Al Zarqawi urging militants to carry out attacks against US and Iraq forces were found too."

The defence ministry said it had also arrested 49 suspects in raids launched on Wednesday around the northern city of Mosul, a hotbed of rebel activity.

The US government, meanwhile, raced to find hostage Jeffrey Ake, who was shown pleading for his life in a video aired on Al Jazeera satellite channel television the previous day.

"We remain actively engaged", in trying to find Ake, a US official in Baghdad said.

"We are committed to doing everything possible to try to find him."

Ake, flanked by three masked and armed men, called on Washington to "open a dialogue with the Iraqi resistance" to save his life, in the video footage.

He also urged US forces to promptly leave Iraq, as he cried holding what looked like a passport and identification card to his chest.

The White House said the safety of the hostage was "a high priority" but indicated the US would not negotiate with his captors.

l A fire engulfed Baghdad's central market late last night, a few hours before the city's curfew was imposed. No one appeared to be inside.

Police said no casualties were immediately reported. It was unclear how the fire began. During the day, the Al Shurja market is normally teeming with vendors.



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