BAGHDAD, Iraq – The militant group holding a Filipino truck driver hostage said they would release him when the last Filipino soldier leaves Iraq, which should take place by the end of the month, according to a statement read Thursday on Al-Jazeera.
The statement came just an hour after Al-Jazeera showed a video of the captive, Angelo dela Cruz (search), saying he was coming home soon and thanking his government for agreeing to withdraw peacekeepers from the country.
In the video, dela Cruz was no longer wearing the bright orange garment he had worn previously. Other hostages killed by insurgents had been wearing a similar garment in videos showing their deaths.
The Iraqi Islamic Army-Khaled bin Al-Waleed Corps (search) demanded the Philippines withdraw its 51-member peacekeeping contingent by July 20 or said it would kill him.
In the statement Thursday, the militant group said it was holding onto dela Cruz until the last soldier left, according to Al-Jazeera. The group also extended the July 20 deadline until the end of the month, according to the statement.
The government at first refused but said Wednesday it was coordinating a withdrawal and already had reduced its forces to 43 members. It was unclear when the withdrawal would be finished, though, and one Filipino newspaper called it a "token pullout."
Dela Cruz told his family not to worry about him, pointing out that he had changed clothing, an apparent sign that he was no longer under threat of execution.
"Wait for me, I'm coming back to you," he reportedly said.
His voice was not audible on the Arab television station; the newsreader narrated the video.
Dela Cruz also thanked President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (search) for her decision and asked her to uphold it, according to Al-Jazeera.
The Philippine government had no immediate reaction. It has been cautious after hopes for an imminent release on Saturday were dashed. The government imposed a news blackout Tuesday that left even foreign diplomats questioning Arroyo's strategy.
Dela Cruz's brother, 38-year-old Feliciano, also expressed gratitude to the government.
Family members and other supporters gathered in front of the family's shack in a farming village in the northern province of Pampanga, praying for the release of the Filipino worker and holding candles.
"I want to thank President Arroyo. Thank you very, very much. She heard our prayers here in Pampanga," he told The Associated Press.
He also thanked the hostage takers but added cautiously, "I will be happier if we really see him."
The fate of dela Cruz, a 46-year-old father of eight, has gripped the Philippines since his kidnapping was first revealed last week.
The Philippine contingent had been scheduled to leave Aug. 20 and its apparent early withdrawal has drawn sharp condemnation from allies worried that the move signals a capitulation to terrorists.
"I think that it's disappointing to see a decision that sends the wrong signal to terrorists," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Thursday. "You cannot negotiate with terrorists or make a separate peace with terrorists."
But, he asserted, "There is broadening international support for what is going on now."
"I think you've seen strong statements of support from a number of countries that are in Iraq right now recognizing the importance of going after the terrorists and helping the Iraqi people address these security threats they face."
The Philippines' move appeared to have worked, with the release of the video showing dela Cruz was safe. He appeared less concerned than in the previous string of videos during the crisis.
Just minutes before the video appeared, Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi (search) said he had called Arroyo and asked her to rescind her decision on the troop withdrawal.
"Our policy is no negotiations with terrorists," Allawi said during a news conference.