Italian journalist reported kidnapped in Baghdad

Saturday, February 5, 2005

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Gunmen seized an Italian journalist in central Baghdad on Friday, lying in wait for her outside a mosque where she was covering a sermon, then sweeping her into a car in a hail of gunfire, officials and colleagues said.

Giuliana Sgrena, a journalist for the newspaper Il Manifesto, was seized in the street near the Baghdad University compound, after interviewing refugees from Fallujah living in the neighborhood, then going to the mosque's Friday prayers, colleague Barbara Schiavulli, an Italian radio journalist, told The Associated Press.

Schiavulli said she received a call from Sgrena's cell phone while the kidnapping was apparently under way.

"I couldn't hear anyone talking ... I heard people shooting" and the sound of people splashing through the puddles left by a heavy overnight rain, Schiavulli said.

"I kept saying, 'Giuliana, Giuliana," and no answer," Schiavulli said.

Repeated calls after to Sgrena's cell phone went unanswered, until a final call, when someone answered without speaking, then hung up, Schiavulli said.

The Italian government said it believed Sunni Arab militants might be behind the kidnapping. Premier Silvio Berlusconi said "negotiations have been set in motion," and officials suggested Sunni leaders in Iraq had been approached to help.

Mohannad Ali, a university security, said that when Sgrena lef the mosque, a black car blocked her way and gunmen opened fire.

"We were standing at the university door and we thought it was a car accident," Ali said. Then security guards opened fire on the kidnappers, who dragged Sgrena into a vehicle and sped away.

Sgrena had been in Iraq several times, arriving most recently on Jan. 23. Il Manifesto, a communist paper, opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and fiercely criticized Berlusconi's decision to deploy 3,000 troops in Iraq.

"Giuliana is a woman of peace, she loves Iraq very much and like all of us is against the war," the paper's editor in chief, Gabriele Poli, was quoted as saying by the ANSA news agency.

A statement posted on two Islamic militant Web sites in the name of the little-known Islamic Jihad Organization claimed responsibility for Sgrena's kidnapping and gave the Italians 72 hours to withdraw their troops from Iraq. It did not say what would happen after the time passed.

The statement included no picture of the victim or other evidence that the claim was genuine. An official at the Italian Foreign Ministry said authorities were looking into the claim but said they were "far from taking it too seriously" at this stage.

More than 190 foreigners have been abducted in Iraq over the past year. At least 13 remain in the hands of their captors, more than 30 were killed and the rest were freed or escaped.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: