DUBAI (Reuters) – A little-known Iraqi militant group has threatened to kill a French engineer kidnapped in Iraq unless France ends its "illegitimate presence" in the Arab country, Al Arabiya television reported on Wednesday.
The Dubai-based station aired a black-and-white video from the "Surveillance for the Sake of Iraq Brigade" showing a man seated in front of militants who pointed rifles at his head. The man identified himself as Bernard.
He gave no surname but earlier this month, gunmen seized a French engineer in Baghdad, who was later identified by French and Iraqi officials as Bernard Planche.
The officials said Planche was an employee of a non-governmental organisation and worked at the Rusafa water treatment plant in eastern Baghdad.
The French government said at the time it was doing its best to secure his release — an assurance that President Jacques Chirac also made to the victim””s daughter, Isabelle.
In the video, the man told the camera in English: "I am Bernard. I am 52. I am from Lyon, France. I have been working … as an water engineer for two years." His words were dubbed into Arabic by the channel.
"I thank everyone who wants to help me and thank my family and I apologise for all the problems I have caused them," he said.
Arabiya television said: "The group called on the French government to end what it said was the illegitimate French presence in Iraq or else the hostage would be killed."
There was no immediate official reaction in Paris but a French diplomatic source said: "French officials are examining this recording. In this kind of affair, discretion is obviously necessary."
France has no troops in Iraq and is not taking part in any form of police training. There are some 90 French nationals in Iraq, about half of them working at the French embassy.
There have been at least 15 kidnappings of foreigners in Iraq in the past three months after an apparent three-month lull over the summer when there were no reported abductions.
Elsewhere in Iraq, a suicide bomber, wearing a police uniform, killed four Iraqi policemen and wounded five at checkpoint close to the interior ministry in Baghdad on Thursday, police said.
"He was wearing an explosive belt. He approached the checkpoint as police cars were entering the ministry, then he blew himself up," a police source said.
After earlier confusion, several police sources concurred on this version of the events.