DOHA - An Iraqi militant group paraded 18 captive national guardsmen in video footage aired by Al-Jazeera television Sunday with a threat to execute them in 48 hours if a Shiite radical militia commander is not released.
Calling itself the Mohammed bin Abdullah Brigade, the group demanded the immediate release of Hazem al-Araji, representative of Shiite radical leader Moqtada Sadr for the Baghdad pilgrimage district of Kadhimiya, the television reported.
Another Sadr aide in the Iraqi capital denied his movement had any connection to the kidnappers.
The hostage-takers "threatened to kill the captive national guardsmen if Araji is not freed in 48 hours," Al-Jazeera said.
Araji aides cited by the rival Al-Arabiya network confirmed that 18 guardsmen were in custody and not 15 as reported by Al-Jazeera in earlier broadcasts.
The threat from the previously unknown group was a rare resort to hostage-taking by militants from Iraq's Shiite majority. Nearly all of the abductions in Iraq's five-month-old hostage crisis have been carried out by Sunni Arab militant groups.
The video footage showed at least four masked gunmen standing over the guardsmen who had their hands tied behind their backs. Some wore helmets and camouflage uniforms, others wore T-shirts.
Sadr's representative in the movement's main Baghdad stronghold of Sadr City insisted it had no links to the kidnappers, but seized on the incident to assail the performance of the Iraqi interim government.
"We do not know the group who claimed this kidnapping and we don't have any ties with them but we understand their reaction," said Naim al-Qaabi.
"I think this operation is explained by the security void in this country and illustrates Iraqis' lack of confidence in their government," Qaabi said.
A prominent Shiite radical leader in the capital, Araji was detained by the national guard before dawn Sunday along with his brother in an operation also involving US troops, relatives said.