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Officials: French Hostages in Iraq Released; 3 Turkish Hostages Executed - 2004-09-02

French officials say Iraqi militants have given up two French journalists they were holding hostage. The news comes after another militant group killed three Turkish hostages. Their bodies were found on a roadside north of Baghdad. Saboteurs have attacked oil pipelines in the north. And a U.S. airstrike on suspected guerrilla strongholds west of Baghdad killed at least 20 people.

The managing editor of Le Figaro newspaper says Iraqi militants have handed over the two French journalists to a Sunni Muslim opposition group. France's foreign minister told reporters in Amman, Jordan he is optimistic they will be freed.

A delegation of French Muslim leaders now in Baghdad had met with the Sunni Muslim Clerics Association amid hopes they could help negotiate the release.

The militant group holding the journalists had threatened to kill them if France does not reverse a ban on Muslim headscarves in the public schools, which went into effect Thursday. Muslim and Christian leaders joined in their condemnation of the abduction.

In sharp contrast to the optimism over the French hostages, a video broadcast on Arab TV shows the execution of three Turkish truck drivers who were held by another group.

Militants linked to Jordanian-born terrorist Abu Musab al-Zaraqawi claimed responsibility for the killings. The bodies were later found on a roadside near the northern city of Samarra.

In other news, U.S. forces continue to strike at insurgent strongholds west of Baghdad. Hospitals in the western city of Fallujah report at least 20 Iraqis were killed during a U.S. bombing raid Wednesday. The U.S. military says the houses that were hit were hideouts for militants linked to terrorist Zarqawi.

North of Baghdad, insurgents have disrupted the flow of oil after blowing up sections of a vital pipeline near the city of Kirkuk. Exports from the northern fields have been halted. Sabotage of southern pipelines last week cut Iraqi oil exports by at least one third.