Hostage Dramas Intensify In Iraq

Friends and relatives jubilate upon hearing the news that Angelo dela Cruz was released by his Iraqi captors Saturday, July 10, 2004 in Mexico town in the province of Pampanga, north of Manila. Insurgents in Iraq have freed Filipino truck driver dela Cruz, who they kidnapped and threatened to behead, the Philippine labor secretary quoted the president as saying Saturday.
The Iraqi militant group holding a Filipino truck driver hostage told an Arab satellite network that it had not released him, despite Philippines' authorities saying earlier that the man had been freed.

"The Islamic Army of Iraq — Khalid bin al-Waleed Brigade" said in a statement carried by Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television that it hadn't let hostage Angelo dela Cruz go but will give "the Philippines government 24 hours to withdraw from Iraq."

Philippine Labor Secretary Patricia Santo Tomas had quoted President Arroyo earlier Saturday as saying the insurgents in Iraq had freed dela Cruz.

The claim came after Arroyo's spokesman said the Southeast Asian country's small peacekeeping contingent in Iraq would be withdrawn when its stint ends Aug. 20, though no decision had been made on whether to send replacements.

CBS News Correspondent Elaine Cobbe, in Baghdad reports, "The hostage-takers have upped the ante - demanding hard evidence from the Philippines that it will withdraw its troops by July 20th. If that's not forthcoming within 24 hours, the Islamic militants say they'll behead the truck driver they've been holding since Wednesday. Earlier, Manila said it would pull its troops out once their mandate ends next month. But clearly, for the kidnappers, that's not good enough."

Meanwhile, Bulgarians were waiting with trepidation to hear about the fate of two of their countrymen taken captive by a separate group.

In other developments:

  • U.S. Marines on Saturday clashed with insurgents at a taxi stand in Ramadi, a city known as a stronghold of Saddam Hussein supporters, killing three of the attackers and wounding five, military and hospital officials said.
  • Insurgents blew up three liquor stores in Baqouba, a city north of Baghdad, amid fears that Islamic militants may be trying to impose their strict interpretation of Islam on the city, witnesses said. The blasts killed a taxi driver who happened to be passing by, said Dr. Nassir Jawad from Baqouba General Hospital.
  • Insurgents slashed the throat of a translator working for American forces in Kirkuk in the latest of a series of assaults on professionals supporting the multinational forces in Iraq, local officials said.
  • Funeral services were held in Baghdad Saturday for two childen killed overnight when two mortar shells targeting a hotel housing foreigners in the capital hit a house instead.
  • Saboteurs on Saturday attacked a natural gas pipeline that runs from the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk to a power station, an official with the North Oil Company said. The attack is likely to affect power supplies in the northern region of Iraq, but it was not immediately clear by how much.
  • A U.S. Marine who turned up in Beirut after being missing for 18 days from his base in Iraq was in Germany Saturday being examined in a U.S. military hospital and was in good shape despite losing 20 pounds, authorities said.
  • CBS News Correspondent Elaine Cobbe in Baghdad reports that a Pakistani man who was freed from captivity in Iraq last week says he saw three hostages beheaded by his captors. He said two were English-speakers and the third an Iraqi. But his story could not be independently confirmed.

    The Philippine government announced its plan to withdraw the peacekeepers on Saturday as the Arab television station Al-Jazeera showed a video of hostage dela Cruz appealing to Manila to give in to the insurgents' demands.

    The government's announcement appeared to be deliberately ambiguous, representing the fine line that the Philippines was walking to obtain dela Cruz's release while remaining one of Washington's closest supporters of the global war on terrorism. But the move at first seemed to have satisfied the men who snatched dela Cruz Wednesday near restive Fallujah.

    Before dela Cruz's kidnapping, the Philippines had been discussing whether to extend the peacekeeping mandate for the troops. The withdrawal would be a blow for the international coalition in Iraq.

    But the government made no mention of any further action on the 4,000 or so Filipino contract workers who provide food services, janitorial work and building maintenance and would be more difficult to replace. They are considered crucial to the running of U.S. bases. Arroyo has already barred new workers from traveling to Iraq.

    The kidnappers of dela Cruz had threatened in a video broadcast Wednesday to kill him if the Philippines didn't pull its 51 police and soldiers from Iraq within three days, a deadline that was drawing near on Saturday as the Filipino claim of the relase was made.

    Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's Tawhid and Jihad group, which has claimed responsibility for the beheadings of two captives in the past, threatened to kill the men Saturday if the United States did not release all Iraqi detainees — an ultimatum that has expired.

    Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi suggested Saturday that the men were still alive, though he warned the information was "unconfirmed."

    President Bush telephoned Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov on Saturday to discuss the hostage situation.

    Mr. Bush offered to assist but refused to negotiate with terrorists, the White House said. Parvanov affirmed Bulgaria's strong commitment to Iraq.

    The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry said the Bulgarian truckers were kidnapped en route to the northern city of Mosul, coming from Bulgaria via Turkey and Syria. Their schedule would have put them in Mosul on June 29, the last day either man contacted his family.

    Bulgaria has a 480-member infantry unit under Polish command in the southern city of Karbala, a small part of Iraq's 160,000 member multinational force.