Bulgarian Minister: Iraq Hostages Alive

Two Bulgarians kidnapped in Iraq were believed still alive Sunday, nearly two days after the deadline militants set for beheading them, Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi (search) said.

He said, however, his information had not been confirmed.

"Our two countrymen are alive," Pasi told journalists. He did not reveal the source of his information, which he said was received about noon.

In a videotape broadcast on Friday by the Qatar-based satellite channel Al-Jazeera (search), Jordanian militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (search) threatened to execute the two Bulgarian truck drivers if the U.S. military did not release all Iraqi detainees within 24 hours.

The deadline expired Friday night.

Pasi used the news conference to appeal to the hostage takers, saying Islam calls for "mercy for the poor, the hungry and the sick." He said one of the hostages, Georgi Lazov, had diabetes, while the other, Ivaylo Kepov, had suffered a stroke.

In a phone call Saturday with Georgi Parvanov, his Bulgarian counterpart, President Bush received assurances that the Balkan country's troop commitment in Iraq remains strong despite the threats by the insurgents. Bulgaria has a 480-member infantry battalion serving in central Iraq.

A group of Bulgarian diplomats arrived Sunday in Baghdad in an effort to establish contacts to win the release of the hostages, the foreign minister said.

The two Bulgarians were kidnapped while traveling from Bulgaria to Mosul in northern Iraq from Turkey and Syria. The were to be in Mosul June 29 -- the last day either man contacted his family.