09/08/2004, 00.00
IRAQ
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Two Italian women seized in Baghdad

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – A group of 20 armed men seized two Italian women yesterday afternoon in Baghdad. Simona Pari and Simona Torretta, both 29-year-old, work for 'A bridge for Baghdad', an Italian non governmental organisation (NGO). 

Islamic-Minbar.com, an Islamic website, reported this morning that the two Italian women were abducted on behalf of Ansar el-Zawahri (el-Zawahri's followers), a group that threatened to strike at Italy back in August because of the presence of its troops in Iraq. Investigators do not consider the claim "very credible".

The Italian NGO has been operating in Iraq since the end of the first Gulf war. For the past 13 years, it has been involved in different health- and education-related projects. Two Iraqis, a man and a woman, were also taken with the two Italian volunteers.

This is the first case of terrorists kidnapping women in Iraq. The only precedent was that of a Japanese woman taken and then immediately released. So far more than 100 people have been kidnapped; 23 were killed.

Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will meet opposition leaders later today because he is "convinced of the need for a united national response in the face of terrorism." Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said he has been assured of the full support of his counterparts in Iraq, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. All possible channels will be used to free the two women.

In addition to Simona Pari and Simona Torretta, five other Italians have been abducted in Iraq: four security agents, Umberto Cupertino, Fabrizio Quattrocchi, Salvatore Stefio, Maurizio Agliana, who were abducted on April 13, and journalist Enzo Baldoni, who was captured on August 20. Fabrizio Quattrocchi was killed on April 14; Baldoni, on August 26. Stefio, Agliana and Cupertino were released on June 8.

Currently, 18 foreign civilians are in the hands of terrorists. Among them two French journalists –Christian Chesnot e Georges Malbrunot– for whose liberation the captors first demanded the repeal of France's law forbidding the wearing of religious symbols in school, including the Islamic headscarf, but who now want a US million ransom payment.

Kidnap victims belong to different nationalities. They are Lebanese, Turkish, Iranian, Somali, Indian, Canadian, and American, not to mention an unknown number of Iraqi captives. (LF)

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