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Arab-TV: French held hostage in Iraq

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Arab-TV: French held hostage in Iraq

CAIRO (AP) — Islamic militants released a brief tape showing two French journalists kidnapped recently in Iraq, saying they were holding the men to protest a French law banning headscarves in schools, according to footage aired Saturday by Al-Jazeera TV station.

The station news reader said the group, calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq, gave the French government 48 hours to overturn the law but mentioned no ultimatum.

The journalists, Christian Chesnot of Radio France-Internationale, or RFI, and Georges Malbrunot of Le Figaro newspaper and RTL radio, have not been in touch with their employers since Aug. 19, the French Foreign Ministry said last week.

The station's news reader said the group described the French law banning religious apparel in public schools as "an aggression on the Islamic religion and personal freedoms."

The tape, lasting 3-4 seconds, showed the men separately standing in front of a black background emblazoned with the group's name in Arabic. Chesnot appears first, saying in poor Arabic that "we are being held by the Islamic Army in Iraq. The tape then shows Malbrunot speaking French; the station did not translate his remarks.

The French law, which takes effect Wednesday, forbids public school students from wearing religious apparel and "conspicuous" signs showing their religious affiliation. That includes Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses.

French authorities have made clear, however, that the ban is aimed at removing Islamic head scarves from classrooms. The law sparked protests at home and abroad, with many Muslims saying they felt unfairly targeted.

The last time the reporters checked in, they were in Baghdad, RFI said. LCI television said they were last sighted about 20 miles outside Baghdad, on the road heading to Najaf.

A spokesman for President Jacques Chirac's Elysee office said that he had heard about the Al-Jazeera report but could not confirm its claims.

Asked if France was willing to reconsider the headscarf law, the spokesman said, "I don't think we are at that point for the moment."

"We must see what the claim is and how credible it is," he said. "We are waiting to learn more."

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the hostage-takers have not contacted French officials.

On Tuesday, Al-Jazeera broadcast a videotape purportedly released by the same group that kidnapped the Frenchmen showing abducted freelance journalist Enzo Baldoni, 56. Two days later, the station received another video that showed Baldoni's killing.

A senior Al-Jazeera editor, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the latest video was similar in form to the Baldoni tape aired Tuesday. Both tapes showed the hostages standing in front of a black background with red Arabic script shown in the background.

Philippe Necand, deputy chief editor at RTL radio, said his station had no details, but he noted that the name of the group cited by Al-Jazeera is similar to the group that supposedly killed the Italian reporter.

"We are worried when we see what happened to the Italian," Necand told The Associated Press. "We can always hope."

Scores of foreigners have been kidnapped in recent months by insurgents and criminal gangs seeking to extort ransom or with the political motive of trying to force foreign troops and companies to leave the country.

In April, 40-year-old French TV journalist Alex Jordanov was freed after four days in captivity in Iraq during which he was repeatedly interrogated by captors accusing him of being an Israeli spy.

France, which opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq last year, has said there are fewer than 100 French citizens in Iraq, mostly journalists, aid workers and the employees of private companies; nearly all are in Baghdad.


Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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As much as I don't like what the French have done (or even this new law of theirs) -- of course, our hearts go out to the families of these two journalists. Hopefully, they will be released unharmed as seems to have been the trend as of late. :(

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Given that the French were against the U.S. on the invasion, and seem to have been against the U.S. on every major decision involving Iraq since...AND the fact that they don't like U.S. culture much at all, I find it surprising that France still isn't above having their citizens taken hostage by muslim terrorists. hmmmm.........

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