Video of kidnapped journalists released - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Video of kidnapped journalists released

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Posted: Wednesday, August 23, 2006 11:41 am | Updated: 4:13 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - A previously unknown Palestinian group released the first video Wednesday of two kidnapped Fox News journalists and demanded that Muslim prisoners in U.S. jails be released within 72 hours in exchange for the men.

In the video, correspondent Steve Centanni and cameraman Olaf Wiig appeared to be in good health, seated on the floor in sweat suits against a black background with no logos or banners. No armed men were shown.

The two had not been seen since they were kidnapped Aug. 14 near the Palestinian security services headquarters in Gaza City.

"Our captors are treating us well," said Centanni, 60, of Washington, D.C., adding that they had access to clean water, showers, bathrooms, food and clothing.

"So, just want to let you know I am here and alive and give my love to my family and friends and ask to do anything you can to try to help us get out of here," he added.

A written statement accompanying the video was issued by a group called the Holy Jihad Brigades. The statement railed against the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"The powers of evil are united in waging wars against Islam and their people," it said.

It marked the first time a militant group in Gaza made demands on a foreign country other than Israel, which was not directly mentioned in the statement.

Local militant groups have routinely tried to limit the conflict to a fight between Palestinians and Israel, hoping not to jeopardize international support for the Palestinian cause. All the major Palestinian militant groups condemned the kidnapping and denied involvement.

It was unclear whether a group from outside Gaza could be involved. Palestinian and Israeli officials have previously said al-Qaida was trying to infiltrate into Gaza from Egypt.

The militants' statement was peppered with verses from the Koran and written in a literary, poetic style - a sharp departure from the terse statements usually issued by Palestinian militant groups.

The video and the accompanying statement were first delivered to the Palestinian news agency Ramattan. The Associated Press obtained copies of both.

The statement demanded Muslim prisoners in U.S. jails be released within three days in exchange for Centanni and Wiig. The group did not say what would happen if the deadline passed unanswered.

Initially, Ramattan reported that the kidnappers demanded the release of Palestinian prisoners. But no such demand was contained in their statement.

"We are going to exchange the Muslim female and male prisoners in American jails in return for the prisoners that we have. We are going to give you 72 hours beginning midnight tonight to take your decision," the statement said.

"If you implement and meet our condition, we will fulfill our promise. If not, wait, and we are going to wait."

It was not clear whether the group was referring to prisoners being held by the United States in Guantanamo Bay or Iraq, where the U.S. is holding large numbers of Muslims.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino would not comment on the Palestinians' demands.

Wiig, 36, of New Zealand, called for help to get them freed.

"If you could apply any pressure on the local government here in Gaza and the West Bank, that would be much appreciated by Steve and myself," Wiig said.

Centanni's brother welcomed the video.

"We're very relieved that the kidnappers have contacted the world and we can see our brother and Olaf," Ken Centanni said from his San Jose, Calif., home. "They look tired and a bit down, but they look good. We're just at this point going to do what we can to secure their release."

Although Palestinian militant groups have often seized foreigners, including members of the media, this is the longest any have been held.

More than two dozen foreigners have been seized in the past two years, and they usually follow a clear pattern. Militants boast of their success within hours, followed by demands for jobs or freedom for jailed relatives, then brief negotiations and finally the release of those abducted, often the same day.

But the kidnapping of Centanni and Wiig has not followed that pattern. Until Wednesday, no group had claimed responsibility, and their whereabouts remained a mystery despite emotional appeals from family members.

Palestinian government officials, including Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, have called for the release of Centanni and Wiig.

Mushir Masri, a Hamas lawmaker, said the kidnapping of civilians does not represent Palestinian culture.

"The Palestinian people respect all countries of the world and takes no one as an enemy, except the Zionist enemy that occupies our land," he said.

However, Masri said the U.S. bore some responsibility for the abduction.

"We hold the Zionist enemy and the American administration responsible for such acts because of their unfair policies," he said.

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