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18 April 2005 -- Iraq's Army said it found no evidence of hostages after surrounding and entering a small town south of Baghdad today.
The military operation in Madain involved more than a thousand soldiers and followed reports that Sunni Muslim militants were holding Sh'iite residents captive.
Brigadier General Mohammed Sabri Latif said they secured houses where people said there were hostages, and found none. The town 30 kilometers outside the capital has a mix of some 7,000 Sunni and Shi'ite residents and has been a stronghold for the insurgency.
Yesterday, caretaker Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said the Al-Qaeda group in Iraq had seized hostages to try to provoke a Sunni-Shi'ite civil war.
The Al-Qaeda-affiliated group in Iraq issued a statement on the Internet saying the hostage crisis has been fabricated as a pretext for government forces to raid Madain.