Prague, 15 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The Italian government has confirmed that militants executed one of four Italian hostages seized recently in Iraq. However, both Italy and Japan have restated their commitments to keep troops in Iraq, despite abductions involving their citizens.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said today that the Italian ambassador to Qatar has viewed a videotape of a hostage being executed that was obtained by the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera satellite television channel. Al-Jazeera did not broadcast the footage.
The ambassador confirmed that the executed man was Fabrizio Quattrocchi, who was working as a private security guard for a U.S. company in Iraq.
Frattini yesterday told journalists that his government is doing everything possible to secure the release of the Italian hostages. "Obviously, Italy and the Italian government will do everything possible to achieve the release of the Italian hostages in as short a time as possible, using diplomatic and other channels," he said.
After learning about Quattrocchi's execution, Frattini reiterated today that his government will do "what is possible and impossible" to free the remaining three Italian hostages.
The killing is the first confirmed execution of a foreign hostage in Iraq since a wave of abductions began there earlier this month.
U.S. officials say they are still conducting tests to determine whether four bodies discovered yesterday to the west of Baghdad are the remains of private U.S. contractors who have been missing since an assault on their convoy on 9 April. One of the missing, 43-year-old truck driver Thomas Hamill, is known to have been abducted. His captors had threatened to kill him unless U.S. troops end their 11-day-old encirclement of the Sunni Muslim city of Al-Fallujah. Their deadline passed on 11 April with no word about his fate.
There also has been no official word about the status of three Czech journalists abducted by gunmen in Iraq earlier this week, or about three Japanese civilians who were seized earlier this month.
Masatoshi Abe, Japan's senior deputy foreign minister, announced today that two more Japanese civilians -- both freelance journalists -- are thought to have been kidnapped in central Iraq yesterday. "According to the various reports, Jumpei Yasuda and Nobutaka Watanabe were abducted [on 14 April], he said. "But, at the moment, the Foreign Ministry is in the middle of checking the facts."
Kosuke Tsuneoka is a journalist and a friend of the latest Japanese civilians to disappear in Iraq. He says there is no doubt that the two were seized by gunmen. "They were going out to report on the crash of a U.S. military helicopter outside Baghdad when they were stopped by armed men and kidnapped," he said.
Meanwhile, a French television journalist who was abducted on 11 April has been freed by his captors. Alexandre Jordanov, who works for Capa Television in Paris, was released unharmed at a mosque in Baghdad. Jordanov was kidnapped while videotaping a U.S. military convoy under attack. He said his captors had repeatedly threatened to cut his throat and had accused him of working as a spy for Israel. The president of Capa, Herve Chabalier, said negotiations with Sunni religious authorities led to Jordanov's release.
A U.S. spokesman said on 13 April that 40 foreigners from 12 countries are being held by kidnappers in Iraq. But details on more than a dozen of those cases have not been obtained by journalists. The number of hostages whose names or nationalities have been reported by international media now stands at 22.
Russian planes today began evacuating from Iraq more than 800 civilian workers from former Soviet republics. The withdrawal was announced after the kidnapping and release earlier this week of three Russians and five Ukrainians employed by a Russian electrical-engineering firm.
In southern Iraq, meanwhile, U.S. troops have bolstered their numbers around the Shi'a holy city of Al-Najaf, where the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is holding out with his militia.
Iranian clerics have reportedly arrived in Al-Najaf for talks about possible negotiations on an end to the standoff. An aide to al-Sadr said the cleric has agreed to drop conditions for negotiations and has decided to follow the guidance of the supreme Shi'a authority in Iraq, the Marjaiya.