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Prominent Islamic Group Calls for Release of French Hostages - 2004-08-31

A prominent Islamic group in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad has called for the release of two French hostages held by militants for the past 11 days. The abductors have threatened to kill the two men if France did not repeal its law banning students from wearing Islamic headscarves in school.

A spokesman for the Committee of Islamic Scholars in Baghdad says killing the French hostages is not the way to solve Iraq's problems.

Mohammed Bashar al-Faizi says the country has a bigger problem and that is the occupation, which has a big impact on the Islamic world. "The killing of the two French hostages will not to be our advantage," he said. "From the beginning, France was against the war."

Mr. al-Faizi made his appeal as France kept up its diplomatic efforts to free journalists Georges Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot, who were taken hostage while en-route to the city of Najaf on August 20.

Foreign Minister Michel Barnier spent a second day lobbying governments in the Middle East for support for the hostages release.

The group holding them, the Islamic Army of Iraq, is demanding that the French government repeal a law that prohibits students from wearing religious symbols, including Islamic headscarves, to school. France has rejected that demand.

Mr. al-Faizi agrees.

"Solving the problem this way is not in our interests or the interests of six million Muslims who live in France," he said. "The Committee of Islamic Scholars expects the hostage-takers to resolve the crisis that has opened the Islamic world up to criticism and to release the hostages."

The kidnappers extended their Monday deadline for killing the hostages, but it is not clear for how long. Concerns about the hostages' fate rose with the report on a militant web site that 12 Nepalese hostages in Iraq had been killed. An Italian journalist believed to have been held hostage by the same group was killed last week.