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Iraq kidnappers say they won't hurt Italians

An Iraqi Islamist group has said it will not harm three Italian hostages it is holding, after murdering a fourth last month, a statement sent to Arabic television station Al Jazeera said on Saturday.
/ Source: Reuters

An Iraqi Islamist group has said it will not harm three Italian hostages it is holding, after murdering a fourth last month, a statement sent to Arabic television station Al Jazeera said on Saturday.

"They are telling the Italian people that they appreciate how the Italian people went onto the streets and now they are not going to harm the hostages," a spokesman for the Qatar-based channel told Reuters.

Relatives and friends of the three Italians gathered on Thursday for a peace march in Rome which they hoped would convince the kidnappers to free them.

Salvatore Stefio, Umberto Cupertino and Maurizio Agliana were captured more than two weeks ago outside Baghdad, where they were working for a private U.S. security firm.

A fourth Italian kidnapped with them was murdered after the captors demanded Italy withdraw its 2,700 troops from Iraq.

The statement, which Al Jazeera said was signed in the name of a group called the "Green Brigade," said it would release the hostages if the Italian government helped to release members of the group held by Kurds in north Iraq.

"It says, 'We will free them if your government negotiates with Kurds in north Iraq to release "Green Brigade" people in Arbil and Sulaimaniya'," the spokesman said.

He said the group described itself as part of a wider anti-occupation organization called the "Iraqi National Islamist Resistance Movement."

Al Jazeera first broadcast news of the statement early on Saturday morning, but dropped mention of it in later bulletins, the spokesman said. A translated copy of the statement was passed on to the Italian embassy in Doha.

The United States has accused Al Jazeera and other Arabic channels of "inflammatory" coverage of the Iraq conflict and said that it is clouding Washington's relations with the tiny Gulf state, which hosted U.S. headquarters for the Iraq war.