Captors threaten to kill Romanian journalists

April 22, 2005, New York—
The captors of three Romanian journalists and a translator threatened to kill their prisoners within four days unless Romania withdraws its troops from Iraq, according to a videotape that was broadcast today on the Arabic satellite channel Al-Jazeera.

The video, which aired without sound, showed reporter Ovidiu Ohanesian, of the daily Romania Libera, and reporter Marie Jeanne Ion and cameraman Sorin Dumitru Miscoci, of Bucharest-based Prima TV. All three were seated on the floor with their hands tied while gunmen stood over them, pointing weapons. The journalists’ translator, Mohamad Munaf, was shown in separate footage, but also had weapons pointed at him.

The previously unidentified group holding the journalists is called the Muadh ibn Jabal Brigade, Al-Jazeera reported.

According to press reports, Romanian President Traian Basescu said earlier this month that his government was in contact with the abductors. Romania has approximately 800 troops stationed in Iraq.

Ion, Miscoci, Ohanesian, and Munaf were seized near a Baghdad hotel on the evening of March 28 after conducting an interview with interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.

Agence France Presse reported that a Romanian-Syrian businessman was arrested earlier this month in Bucharest. Prosecutors said he was “linked to the alleged kidnappers” and also to Munaf, according to AFP.

Munaf has Iraqi, American, and Romanian citizenship.

Insurgents in Iraq began abducting people in large numbers in April 2004. Of the 30 journalists kidnapped since then, two have been killed by their captors and 24 released. In addition to the three Romanian journalists, the French reporter Florence Aubenas of the newspaper Libération is still in captivity.

“This latest video confirms the appalling threat to the lives of these journalists and their translator,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We call for their immediate release, unharmed, and for an immediate end to these abductions that threaten journalists who are simply trying to keep the world informed about events in Iraq.”