Italian journalist kidnapped; two French reporters still missing

New York, August 24, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is very concerned about the reported abduction in Iraq of Italian freelance journalist Enzo Baldoni, the 12th journalist kidnapped by an armed group in Iraq this year.

A group calling itself the “Islamic Army in Iraq” claimed responsibility for the abduction and called on Italy to announce a withdrawal of its 3,000 troops from Iraq within 48 hours, the Qatar-based news channel Al-Jazeera reported today. The group said in a statement that it could not guarantee the journalist’s safety if its demand was not met, according to Al-Jazeera.

Al-Jazeera separately aired a videotape of a man purported to be Baldoni speaking to the camera. In the tape, the man identified himself as Baldoni, said that he was 56 years old, and that he was a writer and journalist who had come to Iraq to work on a book about the Iraqi resistance. The man also mentioned that he was a volunteer for the Red Cross. The video showed a passport and other documentation purportedly belonging to Baldoni.

Enrico Deaglio, editor of the Milan-based weekly magazine Diario della Settimana, told CPJ that Baldoni typically works in advertising and copywriting, but had gone to Iraq to do research for a book on militant groups. Deaglio said Baldoni had agreed to contribute freelance articles to Diario della Settimana from Iraq.

The Italian Foreign Ministry had reported Baldoni missing Friday. He was believed to be heading toward the southern city of Najaf, where U.S. forces have battled with Shiite insurgents for several weeks.

“We condemn this reprehensible act and call on those holding Enzo Baldoni to free him immediately and unconditionally,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said.

The videotape surfaced just two days after documentary journalist Micah Garen and his Iraqi interpreter Amir Doushi were released after being held by a militant group for more than a week. The other journalists kidnapped earlier this year were also eventually released.

Two French journalists remained missing today. Christian Chesnot, a reporter with Radio France-Internationale, and Georges Malbrunot, a reporter with the French daily Le Figaro, have been out of contact with their news outlets since August 19, The Associated Press reported. Chesnot and Malbrunot were also believed to have been heading to Najaf.