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Al-Jazeera airs video of 3 Italian hostages

Bombings and battles claim more lives


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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The Arabic-language television network Al-Jazeera showed video Wednesday of three Italian hostages taken captive in Iraq nearly two months ago. In the video, one of the men said the captors were treating them "excellently."

It marked the first time in more than a month the world has seen pictures of the hostages.

The three, all unshaven, were shown sitting around a table eating with spoons from a communal plate and talking among themselves. Another shot showed the three sitting in chairs. One identified himself as Salvatore Stefio.

"Today is May 31, 2004, Monday," he said on the video. "This statement we are giving is primarily directed to official Italian authorities, to the government, the holy pope, to the Catholic Church and to our families. They are treating us excellently up until now. We are in excellent conditions. We have not had any problems with the people holding us in this place."

The three hostages were among four Italians taken captive in Iraq on April 12. The other hostage was executed by a gunshot to the head soon afterward -- a killing that was videotaped. The grisly tape was given to Al-Jazeera but never aired.

In Wednesday's videotape, the Italians did not mention their slain colleague. The hostage-takers could not be seen in the video.

Al-Jazeera also said it received a statement from the hostage-takers, who identified themselves as the Green Brigades. In the statement, the group called upon Italians to protest the Iraq policies of Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and President Bush.

In late April, Arabic-language television network Al-Arabiya aired a similar video of the three men sitting around a table eating. A written statement from the Green Brigades gave Italians five days to organize demonstrations. Otherwise, it said, the hostages would be killed.

When the Italian hostage was executed in mid-April, the group that carried out the grisly killing identified itself as The Mujahedeen Brigade.

Another videotape aired on Arabic-language television networks and in Turkey claimed to show two truck drivers abducted in Iraq.

Surrounded by armed masked people, the two identified themselves on the news footage as Bulent Yanik from Turkey and Victor Tawfik Gerges, an Egyptian. They said they worked transporting supplies from Kuwait to Iraq for the U.S. Army.

The abductors said, "Some of the jihad groups have arrested those two persons while they were transporting supplies and ammunition to the infidel American army."

They added, "We warn everyone that works for the infidel American enemies. They will face the same fate. And at the same time, we hold their governments responsible for their actions. They will face death if their governments do not condemn these actions."

Two blasts in Baghdad

Five people were killed and 37 others wounded Wednesday when an explosion rocked the northern Baghdad neighborhood of Adhamiya, the Iraqi Ministry of Health said.

Police Maj. Gen. Jamal Abdulla said an empty red car was rigged with two makeshift bombs.

The first device exploded when an U.S. military convoy passed by. It missed the intended target but a few minutes later, as people gathered around the exploded car, the second bomb detonated.

No U.S. troops were reported killed or wounded.

Later Wednesday, an ammunition dump on a U.S. air base near the northern oil city of Kirkuk caught fire after an unknown device exploded near it, a U.S. military official said. No injuries were reported.

U.S. troops used loudspeakers to tell residents to stay inside while a sweep was under way to find whoever might be behind the blast, a witness said.

Meanwhile, clashes resumed Wednesday between the militia of renegade Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and U.S. forces in Kufa.

Officials at two hospitals said that four people were killed and 35 were wounded.

The clashes erupted in several neighborhoods and the Mehdi Army fired mortars at a central U.S. base, authorities said.

The authorized committee of the Shiite House, which represents Shiite Muslims across Iraq, issued a statement saying that U.S. forces Tuesday night and Wednesday violated the 72-hour truce between the militia and troops, and many lives have been lost.

It said U.S. tanks shelled the mosque of Maytham al-Tammar in Kufa, killing a number of citizens. The mosque was shelled again, together with Kufa Mosque, killing nine citizens, the statement said. It said the industrial area also came under artillery fire and citizens were killed.

U.S. military authorities in Baghdad could not confirm the claims made in the statement.

Other developments

  • U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi urged the Iraqi people Wednesday to "give this government a chance." The interim Cabinet held a meeting Wednesday at the offices of the former Iraqi Governing Council, with 26 ministers attending.
  • One-time U.S. ally and Iraqi émigré leader Ahmed Chalabi told an Iranian official that the United States had cracked Iran's secret communications code, sources said. (Full story)
  • President Bush said Wednesday he had spoken with Prime Minister-designate Iyad Allawi and was heartened by the conversation. "He pledged that his country would be a friend and ally of America and peace," Bush told cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
  • The U.S. Coast Guard is increasing its forces in Iraq. Approving a Pentagon request, Adm. Thomas H. Collins ordered the deployment of two 110-foot patrol boats, two law enforcement detachments and supporting forces, the Coast Guard said. The number of Coast Guard deployed forces increased from about 300 people to about 400.
  • CNN's Guy Raz contributed to this report.


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