Clashes in Basra, CBS interpreter freed

(dpa) - Heavy fighting broke out Thursday in the southern Iraqi city of Basra between the Iraqi army and gunmen believed to be from a Shiite cult, leaving two soldiers injured, while negotiations were continuing seeking to free an abducted CBS journalist after the release of his interpreter overnight.

Clashes erupted between Iraqi troops and suspected members of the Ahmed al-Yamani group in the Jenina district in Basra in the wake of a bomb explosion, police sources told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

A deadly confrontation in January between Iraqi security forces and the followers of the mysterious Shiite cult of Ahmed al-Yamani, who believe in the return of a hidden imam, left at least 40 people dead and 60 injured. Some 300 people were also arrested.

Also in Basra, 550 kilometres south of Baghdad, Emad Khudair, an Iraqi interpreter working for US television network CBS was released Wednesday night after three days in captivity and handed over to a judge from the Iraqi federal court.

"I was assigned by the court to oversee the handover of the Iraqi interpreter only then give him over to the police," judge Majid al- Abadi, said.

The judge declined to name the abductors.

Basra police chief Abdel Jalil Khalaf said negotiations were continuing to secure the release of the CBS British journalist, who had been abducted with Kudair last Sunday evening.

Police were not involved in the negotiations, which were expected to result in the release of the journalist within hours, Khalaf said.

"Kudair's family asked us not to have him on television out of fear for his life and to ensure that negotiations for the release of the British journalist are not affected," Khalaf said.

The Office of the Martyr al-Sadr of the Shiite radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr was involved in the negotiations with the unknown abductors.

The chief of the office in Basra, Harith al-Azari, announced the release of the interpreter, saying he was now safe in the Qasr al- Sultan hotel, where he and the British journalist, were believed to have been abducted.

British and Iraqi troops have been carrying out search operations on the outskirts of Basra since Monday.

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