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Italy working to free hostages

French journalist taken in Baghdad, says Foreign Ministry

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(CNN) -- The Italian government is working to free the four Italian citizens held in Iraq, according to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

In a statement on the government Web site, Berlusconi says "the government will do everything in its power to achieve as soon as possible the release of four Italian citizens held in Iraq."

He adds, "The foreign minister is in contact with our diplomatic authorities on site and with the countries that are undergoing similar situations. The defense minister is on top of the latest developments on the military front."

Berlusconi stresses that the peace mission of the Italian military forces in Iraq, in line with international commitments, is "absolutely not in question."

The Italians were kidnapped by a group calling on Rome to pull its troops out of the country, according to a videotape aired on the Arabic-language TV network Al Jazeera.

The network said they are Italian intelligence officers, but a senior Italian government official told CNN that they are not government employees, and were in Iraq working for private security firms.

In the video, armed men surround the four Italians, who are seated and holding their passports. The hostages are not heard speaking.

Al Jazeera said the four were Italian intelligence officers. The Italian Foreign Ministry confirmed that as of Monday night, four Italians have been missing.

U.S.-based DTS Security told Italian officials the four worked for the company, the ministry said.

In the video, a masked man reads a statement from the group calling itself Mujahideen Brigade. The statement makes several demands for the release of the hostages, according to Al Jazeera, including:

  • "The Italian government should give guarantees and provide a timetable (for) its troops (to) pull out of Iraq."
  • "The Italian government should apologize in the name of its prime minister on Arabic news channels for all its actions against Islam and Muslims."
  • "Freeing all imams and mosque speakers without any exceptions."
  • "If the Italian government agrees to our conditions, we will then name the group that will negotiate with them."
  • Meanwhile, a French journalist has been kidnapped in Baghdad, according to the French Foreign Ministry and the journalist's network, CAPA.

    Capa director Herve Chabalier told CNN the reporter is Alexandre Jourdanov, 45, a French national.

    It is not clear when he was taken.

    "We are asking for his release without delay" and with "no conditions," said the ministry.

    The Foreign Ministry has been advising its citizens in Iraq to leave the country because of the escalating conflict there.

    There are almost 100 French citizens in Iraq. They include diplomats, journalists, aid workers and reconstruction workers.

    In another development, eight kidnapped employees of a Russian electric power consortium in Iraq have been released, a company official said.

    Five of the workers were Ukrainian nationals. The other three were Russian. They were all said to be in good condition.

    The abductors did not make contact with the company, Inter Energo Servis, and had made no demands, said executive director Alexander Rybinsky.

    According to the company Web site, IES has 365 employees in Iraq and has contracts to repair power plants in Nasiriya, in southern Iraq, and Baghdad.

    Several Russian power and manufacturing companies are involved in the group, which has been working in Iraq since 1997.

    Rybinsky said a group of masked armed men stormed into a company building in Baghdad Monday, overpowering armed guards, taking nine employees hostage and then driving them away. One employee was later released.

    The Russian government said Tuesday it was considering a plan to evacuate all Russian nationals from Iraq.

    However, CNN's Ryan Chilcote says the Foreign Ministry statement uses "cryptic language."

    "The Foreign Ministry basically says it can't rely on the Iraqi police or the Coalition Provisional Authority to resolve the issue. The situation is far too chaotic and the militias too uncontrollable for Russia to stand by and watch," he said.

    "Russia is saying they anticipated this could happen and they have a plan to deal with it, but they are not saying what that plan might be."

    One of Russia's main contractors in Iraq, Tekhpromexport, says it is pulling its 370 staff out of the country because of rising violence.

    The state-owned company was building a power station near Baghdad.

    On Tuesday, Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman Dan Senor said 40 people from 12 countries were being held hostage in Iraq.

    Senor said it was in everyone's interests that the hostages be released as soon as possible and stressed that "we will not negotiate" with the hostage-takers.

    He said the number does not include those people who have recently been taken hostage and have been released.

    Japan is still trying to glean information on the condition of three of its nationals who have been held hostage for six days.

    Hopes for the three were bolstered by the release Monday of seven Chinese hostages and the release or escape last week of eight South Korean missionaries.

    Militants had vowed to burn alive the three Japanese civilians -- a journalist, a non-governmental organization worker and an aid worker -- if Japan did not pull its forces from Iraq by Sunday. (Full story)

    Iraqi Governing Council member Muhsin Abdul Hameed said Monday that Islamic clerics had issued a religious decree against the kidnappings and that he was hopeful all the hostages would be released.

    A British hostage, Gary Teeley, was released Sunday. (Full story)

    France is strongly advising its citizens to leave Iraq and warning people not to travel there, a Foreign Ministry spokesman told reporters Tuesday.

    The ministry has issued warning to leave since last week. Nearly 100 French citizens are in Iraq, including diplomats, journalists, aid workers and reconstruction workers.

    France opposed the war in Iraq and has no troops there serving with U.S-led forces.

    CNN's Ryan Chilcote and Octavia Nasr contributed to this report

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