|French Committee of the Muslim Faith member Fatiha Ajbli speaks to the press following the committee’s meeting with interior minister Dominique de Villepin to discuss the kidnapping of French journalists Christian Chesnot.
Dubai, Aug. 29 (Reuters): An Iraqi militant group has kidnapped two French journalists and given the French government 48 hours to end its ban on Muslim headscarves in school, Arabic television station Al Jazeera said yesterday.
Jazeera identified the hostages as reporters George Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot. Last week, the French foreign ministry said the two men had gone missing in Iraq.
The channel aired a brief video showing what it said were the two journalists standing in front of a black banner bearing the name of the Islamic Army in Iraq. One man told the camera: “I would like to tell my family that everything is OK”.
Malbrunot worked for Le Figaro and Ouest France newspapers and Chesnot for Radio France International. They were declared missing on the day Italy said freelance journalist Enzo Baldoni was also missing and his driver had been reportedly killed.
Jean-Louis Validire, editor-in-chief of Le Figaro’s foreign service, said Malbrunot and Chesnot were last spotted in Baghdad on August 20 and were probably preparing to go to the Iraqi city of Najaf where US troops battled an insurgency.
Baldoni was ambushed along the Baghdad-Najaf road and taken hostage by the Islamic Army in Iraq. On Thursday, Al Jazeera reported the group killed him because Italy refused to heed a deadline to withdraw troops from Iraq.
The Al Jazeera announcer said the Islamic Army in Iraq issued an ultimatum to France to abandon its “unfair and aggressive” ban on Muslim headscarves in state schools within 48 hours. It did not say whether the group threatened to kill its captives if France did not comply.
RFI vice president Alain Menargues told LCI television it was a great relief to see the two reporters alive, but knowing their situation made waiting for news hard to bear.
“I’m thinking of my Italian colleague, I’m thinking of these two Frenchmen and I say to myself maybe there is still hope. So let’s hang on to that hope,” he said.
The French foreign ministry confirmed it had heard the news about the two journalists broadcast on Al Jazeera and said its embassy in Baghdad was ready to act.
“More than ever before, the French embassy in Baghdad, as the other French authorities, are mobilised for action,” a French foreign ministry spokesperson said. “Once again, we call for the freeing of the two French journalists.”
France is home to five million Muslims, the largest Muslim population in Europe. Its law banning Muslim headscarves in state schools passed its final parliamentary hurdle in March.