| The mother of Rami Saad, 4, and Sami Saad, 6, grieves during the funeral of her two children who died in a mortar attack that hit their house situated near a Baghdad hotel complex. (AFP)
Dubai, July 10 (Reuters): Militants holding a Filipino truck driver hostage in Iraq said they would behead him if Manila did not withdraw troops from Iraq by July 20, Arabic satellite television al Jazeera reported.
“The hostage will remain captive and treated as a prisoner under Islam until the last Filipino soldier leaves Iraq July 20 at the latest ... or he will be executed,” the channel quoted a statement from the group as saying. “We give the Phillipine government an additional 24 hours starting from 1900 GMT today to show it is serious about withdrawing its troops.
Earlier today, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo called the family of Angelo de la Cruz to say he was being taken to the unnamed hotel, in what secretary of labour Patricia Santo Tomas said was a positive development for his release.
Asked by a television reporter if this was a positive development for the release of De la Cruz, labour secretary Patricia Santo Tomas said: “Yes.” Government spokesman Ignacio Bunye said the government hoped he would be released within hours. “There is no actual turnover,” he said. “Indications point to that direction. We are waiting for this positive development in a few hours.”
Celebrations erupted in De la Cruz's home in Pampanga north of Manila, which is also Arroyo’s home province, after the report of his imminent release. “It’s a miracle. Our prayers have been answered,” said Yolly Layug, one of a large group of family and friends who had gathered at Angelo's home to pray for his release.
Foreign secretary Delia Domingo Albert said that Manila had already planned to pull out its 51-strong force on August 20, when its one-year mandate expires. The statement was an apparent shift from Manila’s previous stance that it would reconsider its deployment then, but other government officials said there had been no change and were adamant the government would not give in to militants’ demands.
“The decision (to withdraw) has really been taken since the day we went to Iraq a year ago and said we would stay for a year,” Albert said in an interview with CNN.
Al Jazeera showed De la Cruz, begging Arroyo to withdraw its forces in what al Jazeera called a final appeal. “To my family in the Philippines and President Arroyo, I beg you to withdraw the troops from Iraq,” said De la Cruz, wearing an orange jumpsuit.
On Wednesday, al Jazeera broadcast a video of a sobbing De la Cruz kneeling in front of three gunmen and said the militants had threatened to behead him if Manila did not pull out its military personnel in 72 hours.
National security adviser Norberto Gonzales said the government had tapped contacts in the Muslim world to talk to the hostage-takers, who said they were members of the Khalid bin Waleed Corps of the Islamic Army opposed to the US presence.