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Iraq hostage's death deadline passes without word
Updated: 2004-07-12 08:53

A militant group's deadline to kill a Filipino hostage in Iraq passed on Sunday without any word on his fate, after Manila rejected demands for an early withdrawal of its U.S.-allied troops.

But in a glimmer of hope for two Bulgarians held hostage, Sofia said they were still alive after an execution deadline set by their kidnappers expired.

The Islamic Army in Iraq group holding Filipino truck driver Angelo de la Cruz had vowed to kill him unless Manila pledged by 11 p.m. (3 p.m. EDT) on Sunday to pull its 51-strong humanitarian force out of Iraq by July 20.

Filipino protesters display banners in front of a barbed wire barrier during a rally outside the presidential palace in Manila July 10, 2004, for a Filipino worker who was abducted by Iraqi militants. The Philippines made desperate efforts on Saturday to save a Filipino truck driver under threat of death in Iraq, but refused to give in to militants' demands that it pull out its tiny humanitarian force. [Reuters]
Arabic satellite television station Al Arabiya broadcast an apparently day-old video tape of a masked man holding a curved sword and reading out the deadline and the group's demand.

But Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, a staunch ally of the United States, and her government stood firm.

"In line with our commitment to the free people of Iraq, we reiterate our plan to return our humanitarian contingent as scheduled on August 20, 2004," Philippine Foreign Secretary Delia Albert told a news conference in Manila.

Philippine officials said they had received no information on de la Cruz since the deadline passed.


De la Cruz, 46, had appeared close to release on Saturday night before his captors issued the new death threat.

Undated handout picture of Filipino worker Angelo de la Cruz, who was kidnapped in Iraq. The family of the Filipino driver kidnapped in Iraq appealed to the government on July 9, 2004 to bring him home as diplomats tried to contact militants threatening to behead him unless Manila withdraws its forces. [Reuters]
Officials had said he was being taken to a Baghdad hotel, prompting premature celebrations by his family and friends.

Relatives of de la Cruz were angry with Arroyo.

"She should save my uncle's life and not consider what benefits she might get from supporting the U.S. war in Iraq," Wilma de la Cruz, the hostage's niece, told reporters at the family's house in the rural Pampanga province, north of Manila.

Relatives and friends of the hostage prayed at his house.

Senior Bulgarian diplomats arrived in Baghdad to try to save the lives of truck drivers Georgi Lazov, 30, and Ivailo Kepov, 32, being held hostage by militants demanding U.S.-led forces in Iraq free prisoners.

Lazov and Kepov had faced a Friday night execution deadline.

"Now I can confirm the information, which has been received three hours ago that our compatriots are alive," Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy said in Sofia.

Al Jazeera television showed a video tape last week of the two men in front of masked captors identified as members of the Tawhid and Jihad group led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, accused by Washington of links to al Qaeda.

Kidnappers have seized dozens of foreigners since April to press demands for foreign troops to leave. Many hostages have been freed but at least three have been killed, including an American and a South Korean beheaded by Zarqawi's group.


While the hostage crisis tested the wills of Iraq's new interim government, Washington and U.S. allies with troops in the country, three American soldiers were killed in two separate incidents involving roadside bombs.

More than 650 U.S. troops have died in combat since the U.S.-led invasion in March last year to oust Saddam Hussein.

Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's interim government, which took over from U.S.-led occupiers on June 28, is heavily dependent on some 160,000 mainly American foreign troops for security while it builds up its fledgling forces.

Iraq's national security adviser told a news conference unconventional weapons material might have gone to neighboring states during the U.S.-led war, adding Zarqawi was probably trying to obtain some.

"Just imagine if these weapons of mass destruction or any of these capabilities of making a dirty bomb or a chemical weapon or anything like this, if it falls in the hands of Zarqawi's gangsters and Zarqawi's people," said Mowaffaq al-Rubaie. He did not elaborate.

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih told reporters after meeting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus that the countries had agreed to cooperate to seal their long desert border to stop foreign militants infiltrating into Iraq.

Washington accuses Syria of not doing enough to stop militants crossing into Iraq. Damascus denies the charge, one of the reasons for U.S. economic sanctions imposed on Syria in May.

Masken gunmen led hundreds of Iraqis who demonstrated in support of Saddam in the town of Baquba, northeast of Baghdad.

"We sacrifice our souls and blood for you, Saddam," they shouted.

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