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Threat on US journalist is said lifted
Updated: 2004-08-22 17:23

Kidnappers have lifted their threat to kill a U.S. journalist abducted in the southern city of Nasiriyah along with his Iraqi translator, an aide to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said Saturday.

The kidnappers, calling themselves the Martyrs Brigade, threatened Thursday to kill Micah Garen of New York within 48 hours if U.S. troops did not leave Najaf, according to a video aired on the Arab-language television station Al-Jazeera.

Garen and his Iraqi translator, Amir Doushi, were walking through a market in Nasiriyah on Aug. 13 when two armed men in civilian clothes seized them, police said, citing witnesses.

Al-Sadr aide Sheik Awas al-Khafaji said Saturday he had spoken to mediators who said the death threat had been lifted and they were working out a way to have Garen released.

"We hope that he will be released today and our efforts would be fruitful," he said Saturday by telephone from Nasiriyah. "As for the Iraqi translator, we have received assurances that he is going to be released with the journalist."

It was not possible to independently verify the claim.

Garen appeared in another video aired Friday on Al-Jazeera saying his captors were treating him well. "I am an American journalist in Iraq and I've been asked to deliver a message," he said. "I am in captivity and being treated well."

The newsreader said that Garen also had called for an end to the killing in Najaf, where U.S. and Iraqi forces have been fighting a radical Shiite militia for two weeks, though that part of the audio was inaudible.

Garen was working on a story about the looting of archaeological sites in Iraq when he was abducted, said his fiancee, Marie-Helene Carleton.

Garen worked for Four Corners media, identified on its Web site as a "documentary organization working in still photography, video and print media."

He has taken photographs as a stringer for The Associated Press and had a story published in The New York Times. His photographs also have appeared in U.S. News & World Report.

Scores of foreigners have been kidnapped in recent months by insurgents and criminal gangs seeking to extort ransom or with the political motive of trying to force foreign troops and companies to leave the country.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi interpreter of an Italian journalist who is missing and feared kidnapped was found dead, a news report said Saturday.

Enzo Baldoni, who went to Iraq freelancing for the news magazine Diario, has been considered missing since Friday, when the Foreign Ministry announced he had not checked in with Italian officials in Iraq, as is customary. His last reported contact was Thursday, when he was traveling to the southern city of Najaf.

Diario's editor in chief, Enrico Deaglio, told the ANSA news agency Saturday that Baldoni's interpreter's corpse "was found near Najaf and his body was brought to Baghdad. Still no news of Baldoni, but one increasingly fears a kidnapping."

The Italian Red Cross, which is working in Iraq, said Saturday that Shiite sources in the country had also told them Baldoni's interpreter was dead.

"None of us have seen the corpse," Italian Red Cross spokesman Fabrizio Centofanti stressed. But "they said he was killed by gunfire."

The Italian Foreign Ministry said late Saturday it was still looking into the matter.

Italian reports described Baldoni as a 56-year-old who worked in advertising and liked to visit war zones in his free time, selling occasional articles. Baldoni, who had not been to Iraq before this trip, also wrote entries about his travels on a Web blog.

The family of Turkish hostage Aytullah Gezmen, meanwhile, said Saturday they still had no word about his fate, despite the withdrawal of two Turkish companies withdrew from Iraq in a bid to save his life.

A Turkish television channel on Thursday broadcast a video of Gezmen and said the kidnappers threatened to kill him if the companies didn't leave Iraq within three days.

"The company has done everything necessary. They said they were leaving Iraq. But we still haven't received any news," Ethem Gezmen, Aytullah's older brother, said by telephone from the family's home in southern Turkish city of Iskenderun.

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