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Palestinian Group to Target Non-Muslims

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By MAGGIE MICHAEL
The Associated Press
Saturday, September 2, 2006; 11:57 AM

CAIRO, Egypt -- Palestinian militants who held two Fox News journalists hostage for nearly two weeks threatened in a statement posted online Saturday to abduct non-Muslims visiting the Palestinian territories and kill them unless their demands were met.

The statement, posted in the name of the Holy Jihad Brigades on a Web site frequently used by militants, said the group would kill any hostages it takes unless they converted to Islam, paid a ransom or Muslim prisoners were exchanged for their release.

"Any infidel blood will have no sanctity," the group said in the statement.

It was not possible to verify the authenticity of the statement, which was dated August 27 _ the day militants released American journalist Steve Centanni, 60, and New Zealand cameraman Olaf Wiig, 36. They were seized Aug. 14 in Gaza City.

The militant group had demanded the release of Muslim prisoners held by the United States in exchange for freeing the journalists.

During their captivity, the journalists were forced at gunpoint to declare that they had converted to Islam, Centanni told Fox News after he was released. The group said in its statement that the journalists' declaration saved their lives.

"Nothing but Islam gave their blood sanctity and prevented their slaughter," the group said.

It added, "We are not the sort of people who are fooled ... but only God knows intentions."

Before their release, a video was released in which Wiig delivered an anti-Western speech, his face expressionless and his tone halting.

Palestinian security officials said the name of the group was a front for local militants. They said they had tracked down the kidnappers _ whom they would not identify _ through third parties, but did not say whether the journalists' were freed under a deal.

Several Muslim clerics have issued edicts in the past stating that a visa issued by an Islamic country to a non-Muslim person carries an implicit guarantee of the holder's safety.

One of the most recent fatwas, issued in August by an Egyptian cleric, asserted that the guarantee applies to visiting Israelis in spite of popular anger over Israeli military action in Gaza and Lebanon.


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© 2006 The Associated Press

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