Kidnapped Gaza journalists in video

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The Independent Online

The family of a New Zealand cameraman kidnapped with a colleague in Gaza said they were relieved to see them alive and well in a video released by militants who claim to be holding the pair captive, but remained anxious about getting them freed.

A previously unknown militant group yesterday released the first video of captured Fox News journalists Olaf Wiig, 36, of New Zealand and Steve Centanni, 60, of Washington DC, nine days after they were snatched by gunmen from a Gaza City street.



The group calling itself the Holy Jihad Brigades demanded the release of Muslim prisoners in US jails within 72 hours.



"We are relieved to have it confirmed that Olaf and Steve are alive and well and we wait anxiously for their release," Wiig's family said in a statement released by New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.



New Zealand senior diplomat Peter Rider said that after nine days without contact from the men, "it is so great to see Olaf there alive, well, looking like they're in reasonable health and well looked after."



Wiig's wife, BBC journalist Anita McNaught, "was delighted" at news of the videotape's release, he told New Zealand's National Radio from Jerusalem.



"She was so pleased to see Olaf there, on TV, talking to her," he said.



Rider said the men appeared to have been fed, given clothes and access to a shower and toilet facilities, acts that fit the pattern of previous kidnappings in Gaza that usually ended in the captives' release and were in contrast with militant kidnappings in Iraq, which often ended in the victims' death.



Rider said it was still "early days" in the hunt for the men but that the video "gives us, after nine days, an opportunity now to take the process forward a bit."



He said authorities searching for the pair knew nothing about the Holy Jihad Brigades.



"It's a new name to everybody I've talked to," he said. "But we'll be working with Palestinian authorities and others to try to work out who they are and identify those who are responsible."



Palestinian security officials said they were analyzing the video and had turned to Islamic experts for help in deciphering the poetic verses from the Koran in the statement.



Rider said the group's demand for the release of Muslim prisoners held by the United States would not be met.



"The United States ... stated ... it does not negotiate with militant groups or terrorists and it's called very firmly for the release of the two hostages," he said.



New Zealand officials were to meet later today with diplomats in Jerusalem and Palestinian Authority officials to analyse the request and the video for new leads.

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