GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Video footage of two kidnapped FOX News journalists was released by a previously unheard of Palestinian group Wednesday along with a statement demanding the release of Muslim prisoners in U.S. jails within 72 hours in exchange for the men.
The footage, first released in Gaza to the Arab TV station Al Jazeera via the Palestinian news agency Ramattan, was the first sign of the journalists since they were kidnapped Aug. 14 from their news van in Gaza City.
The statement issued by the Holy Jihad Brigades — the first by a Palestinian group in Gaza that made demands on a foreign country other than Israel — demanded the release of Muslim prisoners in U.S. jails be released within three days in exchange for Centanni and Wiig. The group did not say what would happen if the deadline passed unanswered.
"We are going to exchange the Muslim female and male prisoners in American jails in return for the prisoners that we have. We are going to give you 72 hours, beginning midnight tonight, to take your decision," the statement said. "If you implement and meet our condition, we will fulfill our promise. If not, wait, and we are going to wait with you."
It was not clear whether the group was referring to prisoners being held by the United States in Guantanamo Bay or Iraq, where the U.S. is holding large numbers of Muslim prisoners.
The militants' statement was peppered with verses from the Koran and written in a literary and poetic style, a sharp departure from the terse statements usually issued by Palestinian militant groups.
In the video footage, the men, sitting cross-legged on the floor in sweat suits, appear to be in good health. No armed men were seen.
Centanni said the two men had access to clean water, showers, bathrooms, food and clothing. He sent well wishes to his family and expressed hope to be released soon.
Wiig called for pressure to be put the local government to win their release and told his family not to worry about his situation.
Palestinian security officials declined to comment on the statement and the video, but Mushir Masri, a Hamas lawmaker, appealed to the kidnappers to release the journalists.
"The kidnapping (of civilians) doesn't represent the Palestinian culture. The Palestinian people respect all countries of the world and takes no one as an enemy, except the Zionist enemy that occupies our land," he said.
However, Masri said the U.S. bore some responsibility for the abduction. "We hold the Zionist enemy and the American administration responsible for such acts because of their unfair policies," he said.
Palestinian government officials, including Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, have called for the release of Centanni and Wiig. And all the major Palestinian militant groups condemned the kidnapping and denied involvement.
Local militant groups have routinely tried to limit their conflict to a fight between Palestinians and Israel, hoping not to jeopardize international support for the Palestinian cause.
In the past, Palestinian militant groups often seized foreigners, including members of the media.. The nine days Centanni and Wiig have been held marked the longest kidnapping so far.
Past Gaza kidnappings — more than two dozen foreigners have been snatched in the past two years — have followed a clear pattern.
Militants boast of their success within hours, followed by demands for jobs or freedom for jailed relatives, then brief negotiations and finally the release of those abducted, often the same day. Abductees routinely bear tales of being served tea and robust meals of rice and meat, passing the time watching TV or chatting with their captors.
But this kidnapping has not followed that pattern. Until Wednesday, no group had claimed responsibility for the seizure, and the whereabouts of the FOX News journalists remained a mystery despite emotional appeals from family members.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.