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Kidnappings backfire on Iraq militants

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The Arab League, as well as European Muslim groups, have also condemned the kidnapping.

"We categorically reject and deplore the practice of kidnapping and murdering innocent civilians and regard these acts as repugnant and wholly contrary to basic Islamic principles," Daud Abdullah, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said in a statement. "The two French journalists are professional workers dedicated to conveying the truth about what is happening in Iraq to the world."

Rejection of the kidnappings has come from even more unlikely quarters. The Palestinian militant group Hamas - which claimed responsibility Tuesday for twin bus bombings in Israel that killed at least 16 passengers - had just the day before called for the men's release, describing France as a "supporter of the Iraqi cause."

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which has used violence in the past, is also calling the kidnappings - and the apparent murders of 12 Nepalese laborers held hostage in Iraq - "un-Islamic."

"Civilians who have done nothing wrong shouldn't be killed. It's immoral," says Gemal Heshmat, a member of the Brotherhood. "There are people who want to believe Islam is a religion of terrorists. Nothing could be further from the truth, but these incidents work in their interests."

Indeed, many Muslims say they're frustrated that groups who carry out such attacks tarnish the whole image of Islam in the West. While most complaints center on the Western press, which they accuse of focusing too much on fringe terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and ignoring the peaceful majority, there is also a growing awareness that the most extreme militants bear at least part of the blame.

Even among Islamist groups that use violence, there is a continuum of beliefs on whether it's "Islamic" to attack civilians, ranging from groups that reject such attacks in all cases, to ones that view them as acceptable collateral damage in attacks on armed combatants, to still others that argue that all civilians from countries deemed to be enemies are fair game. Hamas' condemnation of the French kidnappings one day, followed by an attack on civilians the next day, is an illustration of the disagreements among militants over who constitutes an enemy.

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