Al-Qaeda affiliate terror group's video raises fears for Italian hostages

A short video of the two women appeared on YouTube on Wednesday

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The Independent Online

A video of two female Italian NGO workers kidnapped by an Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria is being considered as evidence that the terror group is seeking a big ransom for their release.

Greta Ramelli, 20 and Vanessa Marzullo 21, went missing from the Syrian city of Aleppo in July 2014 while working on aid projects.

A short video of the two women appeared on YouTube on Wednesday. Both Ms Ramelli and Ms Marzullo, dressed in black hijabs, appealed for their release, saying they were “in great danger” and could  be killed.

Significantly, one the hostages said that “the government and its mediators are responsible for our lives”.

Abu Fadel, a member of the Al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra, has told the German DPA news agency that his group is holding the pair hostage. “We are holding the two Italian women ... because their country is backing all the strikes on us inside Syria,” he said. Italian foreign ministry sources quoted by the Ansa news agency said that it considers the video genuine.

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Vanessa Marzullo and Greta Ramelli before the women were kidnapped (Facebook)

The sources said diplomatic and intelligence staff were calling for “maximum reserve” – presumably on the part of the press, because officials were in a “delicate phase” of negotiations.

According to Corriere della Sera newspaper, the video threat is being seen by some officials as a warning that the ransom price could increase or that the hostages might even be sold on to another  terror group unless its demands are met.

Reports in one Arab newspaper, the London based al-Quds al-Arabi, suggested that the Italian government had already entered into ransom negotiations for the pair by August last year.

The widely held assumption that Italy, along with other European countries such as France and Spain, has already paid at least one ransom to Islamic kidnappers, has prompted speculation about the nature of Rome’s current negotiations with the terrorists.

In September last year, a spokesman for the Italian foreign ministry told The Independent that Rome had paid “absolutely no ransom for the release of the Federico Motka”, the Swiss-Italian seized by Isis.

 

But it was widely reported that the Italian government had in fact stumped up €6m (£720,0000) for the release of Mr Motka, who was kidnapped by Isis in March 2013 and released in May 2014.

Mr Motka shared a cell with British security adviser David Haines, who was murdered by the terror organisation last September. A Dane and four French were held with Mr Haines and Mr Motka. They were released, reportedly after their governments paid ransoms of around £5m each.

Ms Marzullo’s father Salvatore expressed optimism after seeing the first images of his daughter in months. “It looks like they are quite well, despite the difficult circumstances,” he said. “We are happy to have seen them,” he said. Although he added: “We remain greatly concerned about their plight.”

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