Iraqi gang seizes two Italian women volunteers

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The Independent Online

Two Italian women working as volunteer aid workers in Iraq were abducted from their Baghdad office yesterday. Simona Torretta, and Simona Pari, both 29, belonged to a pacifist, anti-globalisation organisation called "Un Ponte per Bagdad ..." (in English "A Bridge for Baghdad..") which had been working in Iraq since 1991.

Two Italian women working as volunteer aid workers in Iraq were abducted from their Baghdad office yesterday. Simona Torretta, and Simona Pari, both 29, belonged to a pacifist, anti-globalisation organisation called "Un Ponte per Bagdad ..." (in English "A Bridge for Baghdad..") which had been working in Iraq since 1991.

Witnesses of the abduction said that between 10 and 20 armed men in military uniforms entered the organisation's office and took away the two women, two Iraqi men and the female Iraqi head of another voluntary organisation, Intersos. One of the Iraqis was reported to have managed to escape.

The seizure of the women follows the abduction and murder in Iraq last month of Enzo Baldoni, a well-known Italian advertising copywriter who also worked as a freelance journalist and Red Cross volunteer. Like Torretta and Pari, Baldoni was identified with left-leaning, anti-war groups in Italy, and wrote for Diario, a left wing weekly.

Ms Torretta, from Rimini on the Adriatic, the director of her organisation's work in Iraq, first came to Baghdad for her organisation in 1996. Ms Pari, a journalist from Rome, had been in the country for about a year. The group was also involved in school, water, health and cultural projects.

"A Bridge for..." was created soon after the Gulf War of 1991 with the aim of supporting initiatives to help the Iraqi people, in defiance of post-war sanctions. The organisation, according to its web site, was on the side of "resistance to the domination of countries in the south of the world by those in the north and the prevention of new conflicts, in particular in the Middle East." It fought to achieve these goals by "campaigns of sensitisation, increase of cultural exchange, friendly relations and cooperation in development...A Bridge for considers itself to be part of that vast global movement for 'another possible world' that comes together in the World Social Forum."

A Bridge for ... was created after the Gulf war of 1991 to support initiatives to help the Iraqi people, in defiance of post-war sanctions. The organisation, its website says, was on the side of "resistance to the domination of countries in the south of the world by those in the north and the prevention of new conflicts, in particular in the Middle East".

In the case of Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot, the journalists held hostage for more than two weeks, French authorities are sceptical about an internet message demanding a $5m (£2.8m) ransom. The message also asked France to declare a truce in the war against al-Qa'ida but did not repeat a previous demand that Paris should drop a new law banning the Muslim headscarf in state schools.

Hopes of an early release for the hostages have fallen flat in recent days. The Iraqi government has said it was prepared to help France but this was merely "noted" by the French Foreign Ministry. Paris has been working through Shia clerics close to the Iraqi opposition groups to try to free the pair.

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