MP bid to free Frenchhostages ends in fiasco

4th October 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Oct 4 (AFP) - A French parliamentary deputy heading an unofficial and widely criticized operation to free two French journalists held by Islamic militants in Iraq said Monday that contact had been lost with the kidnappers.

PARIS, Oct 4 (AFP) - A French parliamentary deputy heading an unofficial and widely criticized operation to free two French journalists held by Islamic militants in Iraq said Monday that contact had been lost with the kidnappers.  

Didier Julia, a 70-year-old member of President Jacques Chirac's ruling UMP party, told Europe 1 radio that he was "worried" about the fate of reporters Georges Malbrunot of Le Figaro newspaper and Christian Chesnot of Radio France International.  

The two newsmen were abducted south of Baghdad on August 20 along with their Syrian driver, Mohammed al-Jundi. They are all believed to be held by a group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq.  

Julia said "contact has been lost" with the group days after announcing that the hostages' liberation was imminent and calling the media last Friday to witness the journalists arrive at the Iraqi-Syrian border in a convoy that failed to materialise.  

He added that he was currently in the Syrian capital Damascus and would return to Paris on Tuesday.  

"I am ready to put all the information I have on the table in front of my colleagues on the foreign affairs commission and compare it with what (Foreign Minister) Michel Barnier has, and we will see who has done the most," he said.  

French officials have blasted Julia for his freelance mission, saying he was operating independently of government efforts to free the hostages.  

On the weekend, Chirac slammed Julia's "interference" while Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said such private initiatives could create "a threat for our fellow countrymen".   Le Figaro was scathing of what it called Julia's "dangerous fiasco" and labelled the deputy "uncontrollable".  

The newspaper and other French media profiled Julia's associate in the operation, a former navy commando named Philippe Brett who used to be a bodyguard for a senior member of the extreme right National Front Party and who belongs to an association that used to have ties to Saddam Hussein's regime.  

Brett wrongly claimed by mobile telephone Friday that he was with the two detained journalists and that he believed they would be freed later that day.  

Reports also highlighted the suspected involvement of Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, whose plane was used to transport Julia and other figures to the Middle East to participate in the unofficial liberation efforts.  

Julia confirmed the use of the aircraft, saying: "I needed a fast plane. He (Gbagbo) gave it to me right away."  

He said he and Brett were in the same hotel in Damascus.  

He added that the outrage directed at him in France came from those "furious about their own failure" to free the journalists.  

"I don't see how our four-day search might have prejudiced the safety of the hostages," he said.

© AFP

 

Subject: French News

 

 

 

 

 

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