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IRAQ - July 21 - Six More Hostages Seized.

In a video footage given to Arabic TV Al Arabiya, masked gunmen, from a group calling itself the "Black Banners", says they will behead seized hostages, three Indians, two Kenyans and an Egyptian and threaten to kill them one by one unless the Kuwaiti company they worked for pulls out of Iraq. One of the masked men said: "We announce we have captured two Kenyans, three Indians and one Egyptian. We tell the company to withdraw and close its offices in Iraq". The guerrillas also demanded that India, Kenya and Egypt withdraw their citizens from Iraq. None of the countries are part of the US-led military coalition in Iraq but many of their nationals work as drivers and contractors. Junior Indian FM E. Ahmad said: "We have just heard the news. We are in touch with our embassy in Baghdad and in Kuwait to find out all possible details and to liaise with Iraqi authorities to seek early release of the persons reported to be kidnapped and ensure their safe return". An Egyptian diplomatic source confirmed that an Egyptian truck driver named Mohammed Ali had been taken hostage. On July 19, another Egyptian hostage was freed after his Saudi employer pledged to stop doing business in Iraq. On July 20, Filipino truck driver Angelo de la Cruz was released from more than two weeks in captivity, after the Philippines bowed to the demands of his captors and withdrew its small military contingent from Iraq a month ahead of schedule. Manila's move was criticised by the US and Australia, both key allies, and by Iraq's interim government which said the Philippines was giving in to terrorism. De la Cruz, a 46-year-old father of eight, flew to Abu Dhabi on July 21 to be reunited with his wife before heading home. He said he was well treated in captivity but often feared death.

Washington insists its coalition remains strong despite the Philippines' decision to follow Spain, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Honduras in pulling out of the country. But two more members of the coalition came under fresh pressure on July 21, with an Internet statement from a group claiming to be the European wing of Al Qaeda threatening the nations with attack unless they withdrew from Iraq. The statement said: "To the crusader Bulgarian government which supports the Americans, we ask you for the last time to withdraw Bulgarian forces from Iraq or we will turn Bulgaria into a bloodbath. To Poland and the despicable Prime Minister Marek Belka, withdraw your forces from Iraq or you will hear explosions ripping through your country when we want". Its authenticity could not be confirmed. Poland has 2,400 troops around south central Iraq. Bulgaria has 455 troops in the same area. "We are treating the threat extremely seriously, although I would say we have had more of these sorts of statements from various organisations. According to our security services, there are no new events within Polish borders which would require any particular sort of behaviour, or reaction from our citizens", Belka told Poland's parliament. On July 20, an Internet statement claiming to be from a group led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi said Japan would face attacks unless it followed the example of the Philippines and withdrew its 550 non-combat troops from Iraq. But another statement later in the day, also claiming to be from Zarqawi's group, disowned the threat. Japan vowed to stand its ground. Deputy Cabinet Secretary Masaaki Yamazaki said: "For the rebuilding of Iraq, we must continue our support and not give in to terrorism". Yamazaki said Japan was checking the credibility of the Internet threat. Japan's troops are based in the southern Iraqi town of Samawa, a spot that has seen little of the kind of violence suffered by other parts of Iraq. The US has offered $25m for the capture of Zarqawi, its top militant target in Iraq. He is blamed for masterminding a series of suicide bombings and for the killing of an American, a South Korean and a Bulgarian hostage. A second Bulgarian hostage also captured by Zarqawi's group is almost certainly dead, diplomats in Baghdad say.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Jul 24, 2004
Previous Article:IRAQ - July 19 - Nine Killed As Violence Returns.
Next Article:LEBANON - July 19 - Blast Kills Senior Hizbollah Member.

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