Islamic group threatens to kill Italian hostages, sets deadline

Wext: Monday, 13.September. @ 00:00:00 CEST


12. Sep. 2004 DUBAI (AFP) - An Islamist group has threatened to kill two Italian women held hostage in Iraq if Rome does not withdraw its troops from the war-torn country within 24 hours, according to an internet statement.

The so-called Islamic Jihad Organisation issued the statement on an Islamist website, making the same demand as an extremist group in Iraq that last month executed an Italian journalist.

"After we gave (Italian Prime Minister Silvio) Berlusconi 12 hours to meet our conditions for the release of the two prisoners, we now renew the duration for another 24 hours from the time of issuing this statement," said the group.

But it was not known when exactly the ultimatum would expire since it was not clear when the statement was issued.

"If we don't see the Italian troops withdraw from the land of Iraq, we will implement Allah's judgement on them, which will be slaughter," it said, adding that the pair were kidnapped because of Italy's presence in Iraq.

"The course of events in the next hours will be linked to the withdrawal of the Italian forces from Iraq. We will not accept anything less. We will not be silent until all infidels leave Iraq, and Muslims become safe," it said.

The group was the second so far to claim it was holding charity workers Simona Pari and Simona Torretta, both 29, after snatching them from their Baghdad office last Tuesday.

A hitherto unknown group by the name of Ansar al-Zawahiri Friday gave Rome 24 hours to promise to release Muslim women prisoners in Iraq in return for information about the two Italian volunteers.

The authenticity of both statements could not be verified.

Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni was executed last month by the Islamic Army in Iraq after holding him for a week. The group had also given Berlusconi's government 48 hours to withdraw its 3,000 troops and police from Iraq.

The group that kidnapped Baldoni is now holding two French journalists hostage. Their fate remains unknown.

Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Saturday he was still hopeful that the two Italian women would be released.

"We do not feel alone, and it is a tremendous force, hope remains," he told Italian television.

He said contacts had been made with "several persons more or less influential and important to achieve the release of Simona Torretta and Simona Pari."

Tens of thousands of people joined a candlelight procession through Rome late Friday to call for the release of the two Italians, who were working for the charity "A Bridge for Baghdad".

Rome, criticised for not doing enough to save Baldoni's life, has sent junior foreign minister Margherita Boniver to the Middle East to drum up support for the pair's release.

Source: AFP

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