Islamic militants released a brief videotape showing two French journalists kidnapped recently in Iraq, saying they were holding the men to protest a French law banning head scarves in schools, according to footage aired Saturday by the al-Jazeera satellite channel.
The channel's news reader said the group, calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq, gave the French government 48 hours to overturn the law but mentioned no ultimatum.
The journalists, Christian Chesnot of Radio France Internationale, or RFI, and Georges Malbrunot of the newspaper Le Figaro and RTL radio, have not been in touch with their employers since Aug. 19, the French Foreign Ministry said last week.
The station's news reader said the group described the French law banning religious apparel in public schools as "an aggression on the Islamic religion and personal freedoms."
The tape, lasting three to four seconds, showed the men separately standing in front of a black background emblazoned with the group's name in Arabic. The French law, which takes effect Wednesday, forbids public school students from wearing religious apparel and "conspicuous" signs of their religious affiliation. That includes Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses.
French authorities have made clear, however, that the ban is aimed at removing Islamic head scarves from classrooms. The law sparked protests at home and abroad, with many Muslims saying they felt unfairly targeted.
The last time the reporters checked in, they were in Baghdad, RFI said. LCI television said they were last sighted about 20 miles outside Baghdad, on the road heading to Najaf.
A spokesman for President Jacques Chirac's Elysee office said he had heard about the al-Jazeera report but could not confirm its claims.
On Tuesday, al-Jazeera broadcast a videotape purportedly released by the same group that kidnapped the Frenchmen showing Enzo Baldoni, 56, a freelance journalist from Italy. Two days later, the channel received another video that showed Baldoni being killed.
A senior al-Jazeera editor, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the latest video was similar in form to the Baldoni tape aired Tuesday. Both showed the hostages standing in front of a black background emblazoned in red with the group's name.