Captors release video of kidnapped Italian journalist

New York, February 16, 2005
—The kidnappers holding Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena have released a video showing her pleading for her life and calling on U.S. and coalition troops to leave Iraq, The Associated Press (AP) has reported.

On February 4, gunmen seized Sgrena, a reporter for the Rome-based Italian daily Il Manifesto, near Baghdad University, where she had been conducting interviews.

In a videotape obtained by Associated Press Television News on Wednesday, Sgrena is shown for the first time since her abduction making a plea for foreign troops to leave Iraq. “You must end the occupation. It’s the only way we can get out of this situation,” she said on the tape, according to the AP. The video shows the words “Mujahedeen Without Borders” inscribed in digital red Arabic script in the backdrop.

“I ask the Italian government, the Italian people struggling against the occupation, I ask my husband, please, help me,” Sgrena said. “You must do all you can to end the occupation. I’m counting on you, you can help me.”

“Nobody should come to Iraq at this time,” she said. “Not even journalists. Nobody.”

Uncorroborated claims of responsibility for the journalist’s abduction have appeared on Islamist Web sites stating, variously, that Sgrena had been killed; would soon be released; and that her fate depended on whether Italy would quickly withdraw troops from Iraq, the AP reported.

The Italian government says it will not accede to demands to pull out its troops.

“We condemn this reprehensible act. There can be no justification for targeting innocent civilians, in this case a journalist who was in Iraq simply doing her job,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “Giuliana Sgrena should be released immediately.”

Armed groups in Iraq have abducted at least 23 journalists since April 2004, when insurgents began targeting foreigners for kidnapping. Twenty-one have been released to date, including French journalists George Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot, who were freed in December 2004 after being held captive for four months by an Iraqi insurgent group. One hostage, Italian freelancer Enzo Baldoni, was executed by his captors last year.

Two other journalists remain missing in Iraq: veteran French foreign correspondent Florence Aubenas of the daily newspaper Liberation, who was last seen in Baghdad on January 5 with her Iraqi translator, Hussein Hanoun al-Saadi; and ITV News cameraman Fred Nerac, who disappeared in March 2003 after his crew came under fire while driving to the southern Iraqi city of Basra.