Italian hostages shown on video

A video showing three Italian hostages kidnapped in Iraq has been broadcast on an Arab television station.

A video showing three Italian hostages kidnapped in Iraq has been broadcast on an Arab television station.

Four Italian men working as private guards in Iraq were kidnapped on April 12. Soon after, the captors murdered one of them, Fabrizio Quattrocchi, and videoed his killing.

The latest footage came yesterday with a written message from the captors that urged the Italian people to demonstrate against the policies of US president George Bush and the government of Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi. The previous video in April came with a similar demand.

The footage, shown on the Al-Jazeera satellite network and immediately rebroadcast on Italian television, depicted the three hostages eating and sitting in chairs before the camera. The men were bearded and a little haggard, but seemed not to have been physically harmed.

One of the hostages, Salvatore Stefio, addressed the camera and stated the date as Monday, May 31.

“This message is directed to the official Italian establishments, the government, the Pope, and our families,” he said. “We have been treated excellently until now. We are in excellent condition. We haven’t met any problems from the people who are keeping us in this place.”

An Iraqi armed group calling itself the Green Brigade has said it was behind the abductions.

Saeed Shouly, the deputy chief editor at Al-Jazeera, said the station received the tape by post today at its Doha, Qatar, headquarters.

It was the first video of the men broadcast since April 26, when Arab TV channel Al-Arabiya showed footage of the three eating food from a large pot with their fingers. That tape also came with a demand for protests, and the hostages’ families responded a few days later.

They and several thousand others marched on April 29 to St Peter’s Square, describing it as a peace rally and insisting they were not giving in to the captors.

Pope John Paul II sent a message to the marchers, saying he had celebrated Mass for the captives and urging them to keep their spirits up.

Italians have followed the fate of the three with great concern. After initial indications that the three would be freed, their captivity has dragged on and their families kept in agony over their fate.

“He struck me as being like he was when he left, perfect, healthy. It means they haven’t lied and that they treat them well,” the hostage’s father, Angelo Stefio, told the ANSA news agency. “It had been more than 40 days since I’d seen him.”

During that period, the Italian government has been working to free the three but is not commenting about the negotiations.

The government of Berlusconi, a conservative ally of Bush, supported the conflict in Iraq and sent 3,000 troops to help in reconstruction after Saddam Hussein was toppled.

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