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Captors of Fox journalists set 72-hour deadline

'Try to help us get out of here,' reporter says on video
Steve Centanni, right: "We're in fairly good condition." With him is cameraman and fellow captive Olaf Wiig.



Acts of terror
New Zealand

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- The captors of two Fox News journalists have demanded freedom within 72 hours for Muslims held in U.S. jails, according to a leaflet distributed Wednesday with a video.

The previously unknown Holy Jihad Brigades claimed responsibility in the leaflet for the August 14 kidnapping in Gaza of reporter Steve Centanni, 60, and cameraman Olaf Wiig, 36. They appeared on the video, which was aired by Ramattan News Agency, and said they were being treated well and were in good health.

In a CNN translation of the leaflet, the group said "we will release your prisoners" if male and female Muslim prisoners "in the jails of America" are released. It said "we will give you 72 hours starting today, midday ... to discuss and to agree." (Watch the captives plead and the new security risks -- 1:56 )

There is no specific mention in the leaflet of the two journalists or their names, and there is no statement about what would be done if the conditions aren't met.

The U.S. State Department condemned the kidnappings and demanded that the men be released.

The group is unknown, and its leaflet lacks a logo and a date.

Holy Jihad Brigades "might be a fake" militant group, said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"We are following this issue, and what is important for us is the release of the journalists and to safely return them to their families," he said.

The statement includes quotes from the Quran and mentions American actions against Arabs and Muslims.

Centanni is an American and Wiig is from New Zealand.

'I'm here and alive'

Centanni speaks first on the video.

"We have been taken captive in Gaza and are being held prisoner here," he says, sitting cross-legged next to Wiig.

"We're in fairly good condition, we're alive and well and in fairly good health. We get lots of clean water, food every day, access to the bathroom, shower, clean clothes and our captors are treating us well.

"Just want to let you know I'm here and alive and give my love to my family and friends and ask you to do anything you can to try to help us get out of here."

Wiig then speaks: "If you could apply any political pressure on the local government here in Gaza and the West Bank that would be much appreciated by Steve and myself."

"To my family: I love you all. Please don't worry, I'll do all the worrying for us."

The video then shows what appear to be the journalists' ID cards, including one indicating that Wiig has worked for CNN as a freelancer.

Main groups deny involvement

Gaza's main Palestinian militant groups have denied any involvement in the abductions. Palestinian security forces have helped in the search, a priority for the Hamas-led Palestinian government, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said Sunday.

Centanni's family had appealed for any information about his condition in a videotaped statement that aired Sunday on the Arabic-language station Al-Jazeera.

"I would like his captors to know that Steve is an honorable man who always tries to do what is right," said Steve's brother Ken Centanni, who was flanked by their two sisters.

"Steve has strong respect for the Palestinian people and their culture," he said. "Steve was in Gaza with Olaf Wiig to report the truth. He is far more valuable to the Palestinian people free as a journalist than as a captive."

Wiig's wife, Anita McNaught, recently issued an emotional statement.

"If somebody knows any information can they please tell us, because I want him home so much," she said. "He and his colleague Steve don't deserve this. They are good men. They are good men and should be allowed to come home."

Witnesses to the abduction said two vehicles blocked the journalists' television van in central Gaza. A masked man pulled a gun on the journalists' bodyguard and forced him to the ground before the kidnappers grabbed the men and sped away, the witnesses said.

Washington is working with Palestinian security services, Palestinian leaders and the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem to "ensure their safe release," said State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper. The United States also is working with representatives of New Zealand and Fox News.

However, the United States will not negotiate with terrorists, Cooper said.

"As we've maintained publicly, we do not make concessions to terrorists, and we continue to call for the release of these journalists immediately and without condition," he said.

In the past two years, Palestinian militants in Gaza have seized at least 26 foreigners, including nine members of the media. Hostages usually are released within hours.

CNN's Paula Hancocks contributed to this report.

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