Militants kill Italian hostage, release French journalist

Thursday, April 15, 2004

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraqi militants executed one of four Italian hostages, officials in Rome confirmed Wednesday -- the first known execution of any of the 22 foreigners being held in Iraq.

The killing could further heighten fears among international aid workers, contractors and journalists, some of whom are already restricting their activities in the country.

Earlier Wednesday, a French journalist was freed after a four-day hostage ordeal and Russia announced it would evacuate its citizens.

The militants who killed the Italian hostage demanded the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and threatened to kill the three other hostages, Al-Jazeera reported.

The Arab TV network reported it had video of the killing but did not broadcast it because it is too graphic. Al-Jazeera did show footage of the four Italian security guards sitting on the ground, holding up their passports and surrounded by armed men.

Earlier, the Arabic TV network Al-Jazeera reported the killing, saying it had received a video recording of the murder.

Identity confirmed

The Italian ambassador to Qatar, where the network is based, watched the video and confirmed the man killed was Fabrizio Quattrocchi, one of the kidnapped Italians, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said.

Frattini said the government would do "what is possible and impossible" to free the remaining three.

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi said, "They have cut short a life. They have not damaged our values and our commitment to peace,"

The French television journalist was freed unharmed at a mosque in Baghdad, saying he suffered constant movement and threats to his life.

Alexandre Jordanov, who works for Capa Television in Paris, was kidnapped Sunday while videotaping a U.S. military convoy under attack. He was traveling with cameraman Ivan Ceriex, who was released the next day.

Jordanov, 40, said his abductors switched his location eight times, passing him from one armed group to another.

"It was: 'We're going to cut your throat' to 'You're part of the Mossad,"' Jordanov said, referring to the Israeli secret service.

A U.S. spokesman said Tuesday that 40 foreigners from 12 countries are being held by kidnappers -- but an Associated Press count put the number at 22, with Wednesday's release of the French journalist.

American experts, meanwhile, were conducting tests to determine whether four bodies discovered west of Baghdad are the remains of private U.S. contractors missing since an assault on their convoy Friday.

One of the missing -- Thomas Hamill, a 43-year-old truck driver -- is known to have been abducted. His captors have threatened to kill and mutilate him unless U.S. troops ended their assault on Fallujah. The deadline passed Sunday with no word on his fate.

The Russian Embassy in Baghdad was preparing a list of about 800 specialists to be evacuated.

The move comes after three Russian and five Ukrainian employees of a Russian energy company were kidnapped by masked gunmen who broke into their Baghdad house on Monday. They were released unharmed the next day.

The four Italian security guards were abducted Monday. The militants' videotape was accompanied by a statement from a previously unknown group, the Green Battalion, said it would "kill the three remaining Italian hostages one after the other, if their demands are not met," Al-Jazeera said.

The group demanded the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, an apology from Berlusconi, and the release of religious clerics held in Iraq.

Berlusconi on Tuesday ruled out any withdrawal of troops.

Three of the Italian captives were working for a U.S.-based company while a fourth was employed by a Seychelles-based firm, Frattini said.

He stressed that the four Italian hostages were not members of Italian intelligence, and that the abductors were "terrorists and killers" who were "out of control" -- not members of any organized resistance.

Italy is the third-largest coalition partner in the occupation force. Italy didn't send in combat troops during the war. Its forces are based in the southern city of Nasiriyah, working on reconstruction.

In November of last year, Italy suffered tragic losses when a suicide truck bomb attack in Nasiriyah, a city in southern Iraq, killed 19 Italians -- Italy's worst single military loss since World War II.

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