Former Egyptian hostage held with French two

21st November 2004, Comments 0 comments

AMMAN, Nov 20 (AFP) - An Egyptian released by kidnappers in Iraq said Saturday he was temporarily held with two Frenchmen, but did not say if they were two journalists abducted in August, and whose whereabouts are still unknown.

AMMAN, Nov 20 (AFP) - An Egyptian released by kidnappers in Iraq said Saturday he was temporarily held with two Frenchmen, but did not say if they were two journalists abducted in August, and whose whereabouts are still unknown.

Trucker Ahmed Abdul Aziz Mohammed, 47, told AFP he was released last Saturday from the house in Latifiyah where he was being held with two Frenchmen and that he believed they were still there then.

He did not say whether they were Christian Chesnot, who works for Radio France International, and Georges Malbrunot, a reporter for Le Figaro newspaper. The pair were abducted August 20 on the road to the southern Shiite city of Najaf.

Latifiyah is 30 kilometres (19 miles) south of Baghdad.

"I was kidnapped on October 20 and held afterwards at a house in Latifiyah where two Frenchmen were in the next room and whose voices I heard," Mohammed said.

"I heard the kidnappers talking at night in another nearby room. One of them said 'Let's take the Frenchmen to Fallujah,' but another one said "no, it is too dangerous.'

"That is how I confirmed that they were French. I do not speak French, but I recognise the language."

Chesnot and Malbrunot were were kidnapped along with their Syrian driver, Mohammed Al-Jundi, who was picked up and released by US forces after they found him during the recent assault on the Sunni rebel bastion of Fallujah.

Last week, French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said that "from all the indirect contacts that we have set up ... we infer the confirmation that the lives of Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot are not in danger. The question remains when they will be freed, and we are working towards that moment."

The French foreign ministry said in a statement Saturday that it had been in contact with Mohammed and was in the process of following up on information he had provided.

Mohammed said he was not mistreated by his captors, who demanded USD 25,000 ransom, but seemed to have been satisfied with the USD 1,400 he was carrying.

He said they were Sunni Muslims because of the way they prayed and the rituals they followed during the fasting month of Ramadan, which ended last week.

"No one ever hit me," he said, adding that he was kept blindfolded except during prayer time.

Mohammed said he was abducted by armed men in a four-wheel drive vehicle and a car in Baghdad's Karrada neighbourhood, as he carried a cargo of rice and flour that he had brought from Jordan.

He said he was taken to a farm, but did not know it was in Latifiyah until he was released.

For five days he said he was kept with a Jordanian, whom he named as Ziyad Jaber Rifai and who later left, without Mohammed knowing what became of him.

Jordanian authorities have said Rifai was freed on October 26 after being held for 13 days.

Mohammed said that last week, just before the Saturday beginning of the Eid al-Fitr holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, he was told he was going to be released.

However, they said there were going to keep his truck, which they "were going to sell to buy arms."

Fighting tears, he said he was thankful to God for his life, "but the loss of my truck is a great blow to me. I have nothing left."

In the final act to the tragedy, the abductors who took his truck and USD 1,400 sent him to the border with Jordan by taxi, and left him with the tab.

"They followed me in a car behind. The taxi took a circuitous route, not the motorway, to avoid the Americans. When I got to the border, I telephoned my wife, who came with money to pay the taxi and with our documents, and we came to Jordan."

© AFP

Subject: French News

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