Kidnapped Journalist Phones Colleague

A colleague of an Italian journalist abducted in Iraq said she received a call from the cell phone of Giuliana Sgrena on Saturday — but heard no voices, only Arabic music in the background — as Italians hoped the strongly anti-war stance of Sgrena's paper could help win her release.

Sgrena, 56, a reporter for the left-wing Il Manifesto (search), was abducted Friday by gunmen who blocked her car near Baghdad University (search) and pulled her into their vehicle while exchanging fire with university guards. Shortly before she was kidnapped, Sgrena had been interviewing people who fled last year's U.S. assault on the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Fallujah.

It was the first reported kidnapping of a foreigner since Iraq's election last weekend.

Barbara Schiavulli, a colleague of Sgrena working in Baghdad, received a 15-second call from Sgrena's cell phone early Saturday, hearing only Arabic music.

Schiavulli said she received another call Friday from Sgrena's phone, apparently while the kidnapping was taking place, and heard gunfire in the background.

Il Manifesto strongly opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq. It has fiercely criticized Premier Silvio Berlusconi's (search) support and his decision to deploy 3,000 troops in Iraq after the ouster of Saddam Hussein.

Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu said he hoped Sgrena's anti-war views work in her favor.

"We hope that the kidnapping is of a political kind," Pisanu said in comments published by the newspaper La Stampa. "If it is a political kidnapping, the kidnappers will discover that the journalist is one of those who always sustained their own reasoning."

More than 190 foreigners have been abducted in Iraq over the past year, many by Sunni insurgents, but others by criminals seeking ransom. At least 13 remain in their captors' hands and more than 30 others have been killed.

A statement posted on two Islamic militant Web sites in the name of the little-known Islamic Jihad Organization claimed responsibility for Sgrena's kidnapping and gave the Italians 72 hours to withdraw their troops from Iraq. It did not say what would happen after the time had passed.

The statement included no picture of the victim or other evidence that the claim was genuine. The Italian Foreign Ministry said it was skeptical about the claim.

Il Manifesto was preparing a video with pictures of Sgrena and extracts from her articles that it hoped would be broadcast on Arabic news network Al-Jazeera, explaining her "commitment to peace and opposition to war," said Il Manifesto journalist Francesco Paterno.

Paterno said it was preparing the video with the help of "Un Ponte per ..." the group of two Italian aid workers, Simona Torretta and Simona Pari, kidnapped in Iraq on Sept. 7 and released three weeks later.

Also appealing for Sgrena to be freed was the Union for Islamic Communities and Organizations in Italy.

Sgrena is at least the second Italian journalist kidnapped in Iraq and at least the ninth Italian citizen seized overall in Iraq in recent months. Freelance Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni was reported missing in mid-August and reported killed Aug. 26.