The underground Islamic Jihad distributed photographs today showing what it said was the body of slain French researcher Michel Seurat, kidnaped by the militant Shiite Moslem faction nearly a year ago.
But in a statement delivered to news offices with the photographs, Islamic Jihad denied it was involved in another kidnaping Saturday -- that of a four-man French television crew.
One of the three black-and-white photos showed a man who friends said appeared to be Seurat lying on the ground, naked from the waist up. His head was tilted sideways and his eyes were half-closed. There was no evidence of injuries. Another photo was of a body in a coffin, covered from head to toe by a blanket. A third photo showed a sealed casket with a crucifix.
French Embassy officials would not comment on the photos or claims.
Meanwhile, two senior Shiite Lebanese leaders said they deplored the kidnaping of innocent westerners.
Nabih Berri, leader of the Shiite Amal militia, said that while he did not support a French decision to hand over "wanted Iraqis to the Baghdad government" -- which allegedly prompted some of the kidnapings -- he considered the abduction of French citizens unwarranted.
Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, the highest Shiite religious authority in Lebanon, was quoted as saying today that "no westerner should bear the consequences of his country or party, if his innocence is established." Fadlallah is said by many to be the spiritual guide of Hezbollah, a radical Shiite faction blamed by U.S. officials for several major bombings in Lebanon.
Fadlallah denies having any links with Hezbollah, but he was the main speaker at a rally held by the faction Saturday that preceded the kidnaping of the French television crew.
Today's Islamic Jihad statement said, "We had already announced the death of intelligence expert Michel Seurat." Last Wednesday, the group said it had "executed" Seurat as a "spy" and demanded that France "recover" two Iraqi dissidents expelled to Baghdad following a series of bomb attacks in Paris.
Seurat, 38, a sociologist and Islamic specialist, was abducted at gunpoint in Beirut May 22. He is one of eight Frenchmen seized in the Moslem-controlled sector of the Lebanese capital in the past year.
Islamic Jihad warned that the lives of three other French captives it has been holding since last year were in danger unless France responded quickly to its demands. The three are journalist Jean-Paul Kauffmann and French diplomats Marcel Carton and Marcel Fontaine.
Announcement of Seurat's death Wednesday and the kidnaping Saturday of four journalists from France's state-run Antenne 2 revived the dormant hostage issue in France and prompted Paris to send special envoys to Beirut and Damascus.
Yesterday, an anonymous caller claiming to represent Islamic Jihad told news bureaus that the group had detained the four French journalists for interrogation because they were acting suspiciously in Beirut's Shiite Moslem suburbs. The television crew had been covering a rally by Hezbollah.
Today's Islamic Jihad statement called yesterday's claim "false and fabricated" and said Islamic Jihad "knew nothing of the latest kidnaping of four French correspondents."
"Any statement to be issued by us from now on will be accompanied by a new photograph of one of the three hostages detained by us," Islamic Jihad said.
Last May, the same group produced color photos of two French diplomats and some American hostages seized earlier. Those photos, dropped at news offices, were accompanied by a proposal for releasing the American and French captives in exchange for the freeing of Lebanese and Iraqi activists jailed in Kuwait on bombing charges.
On Oct. 4, the group declared it had killed one of the American captives, William Buckley, a U.S. diplomat in Beirut, in retaliation for an Israeli raid against the Palestine Liberation Organization in Tunisia. The claim included a faded picture of Buckley wrapped in a white shroud, but there has been no independent confirmation of his death.
Today's statement said Islamic Jihad was not trying to "blackmail anyone" -- an apparent reference to a pledge yesterday by Prime Minister Laurent Fabius that France would not give in to pressure.