Italian Journalist Pleads for Life

Sobbing and clasping her hands together in prayer, a kidnapped Italian journalist appeared on a new video Wednesday, pleading for her life and calling on U.S.-led troops to pull out of Iraq.

"You must end the occupation, it's the only way we can get out of this situation," Giuliana Sgrena (search) said in the videotape, delivered anonymously to Associated Press Television News.

Rocking back and forth and struggling to hold back tears, Sgrena appeared alone in the brief footage, only her shadow visible on a white background behind her. In the upper left hand corner of the image, the words "Mujahedeen Without Borders" appeared in digital red Arabic script — a previously unheard-of group.

"I ask the Italian government, the Italian people struggling against the occupation, I ask my husband, please, help me," Sgrena said in French. "You must do all you can to end the occupation. I'm counting on you, you can help me."

The video was shown just hours before Italy's Senate started voting on extending the nation's 3,000-member military mission in Iraq until June. The center-right coalition of Premier Silvio Berlusconi (search), a strong supporter of the U.S.-led Iraq campaign, has a comfortable majority in Parliament, and approval is expected.

The 56-year-old reporter for the communist daily Il Manifesto was kidnapped by unidentified gunmen amid gunfire Feb. 4 near Baghdad University.

Since then, conflicting claims about her case have appeared on Islamic militant Web sites. One said she had been killed, another said she would soon be released and a third said her fate depended on whether Italy would quickly withdraw troops from Iraq. The Italian Foreign Ministry has said it has doubts about all such Web statements.

After the video was aired, the Italian Foreign Ministry vowed to keep working for Sgrena's release "without changing the political, diplomatic and intelligence strategy that has been followed so far."

It also said the government was worried the kidnapping may not be resolved quickly.

Sgrena's companion, Pierre Scolari, whom she addressed in the video as her husband, told Italian television Sgrena looked "fairly well" in the video, considering the circumstances. Franco Sgrena, the hostage's father, said on SKY TG24 he was "worried because she seemed quite desperate."

In the video, Sgrena spoke in both Italian and French and wore a light green jacket and shirt. She appeared in good health but looked tired and was clearly anxious, locking her fingers together and shaking her hands as if begging.

At one point, her eyes filled with tears as she struggled to recite her message, and she waved the camera to stop.

"Nobody should come to Iraq at this time," she said. "Not even journalists. Nobody."

Last week, Sgrena's newspaper said it had indications she was alive and that intelligence officials had established indirect contact with the kidnappers.

Italy has said it will not pay a ransom.

Italian government officials and Sgrena's colleagues have publicized the journalist's pacifist convictions in hopes it might help win her release.

Il Manifesto strongly opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. It has fiercely criticized Berlusconi's decision to deploy troops to Iraq.

More than 190 foreigners have been abducted in Iraq in the past year. At least 13 remain in the hands of their captors, more than 30 were killed and the rest were freed or escaped.

Sgrena is at least the ninth Italian citizen seized in Iraq in recent months.