France unsure of Iraq hostage statement

15th September 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Sept 15 (AFP) - The French government said Wednesday it was still trying to authenticate a statement purportedly made by Islamic militants holding two French journalists hostage that called Paris an "enemy of Muslims".

PARIS, Sept 15 (AFP) - The French government said Wednesday it was still trying to authenticate a statement purportedly made by Islamic militants holding two French journalists hostage that called Paris an "enemy of Muslims".  

"We are still analyzing the message to verify its authenticity. At this stage, we cannot draw any definitive conclusions," government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope told reporters.  

"We continue to work cautiously and confidently, with our main concern being the safety of our countrymen," he added.  

Radio France correspondent Christian Chesnot, Le Figaro reporter Georges Malbrunot and their Syrian driver were kidnapped on August 20 by a shadowy group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq.  

The hostage-takers initially demanded that Paris rescind its ban on the wearing of Islamic headscarves and other "conspicuous" religious insignia in state schools, but the law went into effect on September 2 as planned.  

After an unprecedented wave of condemnations from the Arab and Muslim worlds, the group seemed set to release the men but there had been no news for about a week until Tuesday.  

On Tuesday, the group purportedly called France an "enemy of Muslims" and listed a number of "crimes" carried out by Paris against several Muslim countries in a statement published on a website.  

"France has distinguished itself for its war against Islam and Muslims and has committed butchery against the nation," said the statement.  

The statement noted that "true professionals, be they journalists, doctors or others, who do not carry out any activity of sabotage ... are not the target of the Islamic Army."   "We respect those who are on a genuine humanitarian mission ... and are not pursuing missionary or intelligence objectives," it added.  

Diplomats in Paris said French authorities had known about the statement for at least two days, and that it was not the only message allegedly sent by the kidnappers seen by crisis teams working on the situation in Baghdad and Amman.  

The statement - which gave a long litany of grievances about French policy in countries like Syria, Lebanon, Sudan and Tunisia - left experts perplexed.  

"The line of argument is rather weak," noted Antoine Basbous, who heads the Paris-based Observatory of Arab Countries.  

Radio France chairman Jean-Paul Cluzel warned Wednesday that the hostage crisis could drag on for a long time.  

"What my contacts are telling me is that there is a risk that this situation could last," he said.  

"We're in a situation that is indirect, complex and dangerous," he said, highlighting the physical toll the ordeal was likely taking on the two men and calling for continued nationwide calls for their release.

 

© AFP

 

Subject: French News

0 Comments To This Article