In a video released today on Al-Jazeera Television, the previously unheard-of "Holy Jihad Brigades" claimed responsibility for the abduction of two foreign reporters in Gaza nine days ago. The group demanded the release of "Muslim prisoners" from US jails within 72 hours, but did not specify what they would do if their demand was not met.
In the video, Fox News Channel correspondent Steve Centanni, a 60-year-old American, and New Zealand cameraman Olaf Wiig, 36, were shown sitting cross-legged on a blanket on a floor.
The abduction is now the longest-lasting in Gaza for more than a year. Previous kidnappings in Gaza (there have been seven in the last year) have usually ended within a few hours or, at most, several days. The two journalists were captured from their television van in Gaza City on August 15th.
"Release what you have, and we will release what we have," the "Holy Jihad Brigades" said in a statement. "If you implement our conditions we will implement our promise, otherwise you will have to wait."
But the U.S. government said that they would not negotiate for the journalists’ release. "It is the position of the U.S. government that we do not make concessions to terrorists," said Micaela Schweitzer-Bluhm, spokeswoman for the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem.
The wife of Olaf Wiig, one of the captured journalists, former BBC World presenter Anita McNaught, has traveled to Gaza to appeal for his release. In the video, the men encouraged their governments to put pressure on local Palestinian authorities to work toward their release.
Said Centanni, "Our captors have treated us well. Just want to let you know I’m here and alive and give my love to my family and friends and ask you to do anything you can to try to help us get out of here."
Wigg added: "If you could apply any pressure on the local government here in Gaza and the West Bank that would be much appreciated by Steve and myself."
Since the kidnapping, Fox has largely been silent over the abduction. The organization did release a three-line statement on Wednesday, however, saying it was encouraged that its colleagues were alive and calling for their immediate release.
"We trust that the abductors understand they are responsible for Steve and Olaf’s welfare and safe return," John Moody, a senior vice president at Fox, wrote in an email sent to Reuters.
The ruling Hamas government has strongly condemned the capture of the two journalists, and a spokesman for the government stated that Hamas had no knowledge of the "Holy Jihad Brigades".
"We reject and condemn the kidnapping of foreigners and journalists and we urge the kidnappers to immediately free them," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.