Armenian among Kidnapped Journalist in Iraq

BUCHAREST (Combined Sources)–Three Romanian journalists kidnapped in Baghdad–among them Romanian Armenian Ovidiu Ohanesian–managed to send desperate text messages to relatives and colleagues just before disappearing on Monday–as they became the latest foreigners to be abducted in Iraq.

"We’re kidnapped. This is not a joke. Help!!!!," one of the three–Prima TV reporter Marie Jeanne Ion–managed to message her mother from her mobile phone–her mother Magdalena Ion told Realitatea TV on Tuesday.

"Don’t kill us–we are from a poor country and we have no money," Ion was quoted as saying.

Ion’s cameraman Sorin Miscoci and journalist Ovidiu Ohanesian of the Romania Libera daily newspaper–all on a short reporting trip to Iraq–were also missing–authorities said.

President Traian Basescu said both local and foreign secret services had been alerted and he chaired a meeting of a crisis committee set up to handle the situation.

"We have alerted all the secret services and the foreign intelligence services of our allies to solve the case," Basescu told the Romanian TVR1 television after the three journalists were snatched on Monday night.

"President Traian Basescu assures Romanians that Romania has the will and the capacity to defend its citizens," his spokeswoman Adriana Saftoiu said.

The three were seized while Basescu was on a whistle-stop visit to Afghanistan and Iraq–where staunch US ally Romania has sent 800 troops to join the US-led force.

Like other east European countries grateful to Washington for its support in shedding communism–Romania is a faithful US ally that has unwaveringly supported the war in Iraq–providing logistical support and troops.

Amid wide political consensus–it joined NATO in 2004 and is eager to host permanent US military bases on its Black Sea coast.

The kidnappings appeared to cause no immediate political backlash for Romania’s role in Iraq–with officials saying they suspected the motives were financial rather than political.

"I would like to believe that only economic reasons triggered their situation. I don’t want to believe that their kidnapping was politically motivated," said Simona Marinescu–an adviser to the Romanian embassy in Baghdad.

More than 150 foreigners have been seized in Iraq over the past year. Most have been freed after negotiations or payment of ransom–but about a third have been killed. Many more Iraqis have been abducted–often for ransom.

The news editor of Prima TV–Dan Dumitru–said Ion managed a quick call to her newsroom before disappearing and that he had heard her desperately pleading with her kidnappers.

"I heard Arabic–English–and Romanian words shouted," he said. "I heard her imploring the attackers not to kidnap them because they come from a poor country which won’t be able to pay the ransom."

Her mother appealed to authorities not to rush into rescue operations before hearing out the abductors.

"Please don’t send special troops to look for them," Magdalena Ion said. "We must wait and see what the kidnappers want."

Prime Minister Calin Tariceanu told reporters: "We will make every effort so that the three journalists return home safely."

Journalists at Romania Libera had a difficult time believing their colleague had been kidnapped since there was no demand from the kidnappers.

"We cannot say we are absolutely positive he was kidnapped. We have tried to contact our colleague and we will continue to try," said fellow journalist Cornel Popa.

The disappearance of the three Romanians is just the latest kidnapping incident involving journalists in Iraq.

Earlier this month Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena was freed after the intervention of the Italian secret service–after nearly four weeks as a captive.

But Nicola Calipari–the international operations chief of Italy’s military intelligence service who masterminded her release–was shot and killed by US troops at a checkpoint as Sgrena was being driven to Baghdad airport.

In January Liberation correspondent Florence Aubenas and her translator–Hussein Hanoun al-Saadi–were snatched outside a Baghdad hotel and are still missing.

And Christian Chesnot–a freelance journalist kidnapped in Iraq while working for Radio France International and Georges Malbrunot–Le Figaro’s Iraq correspondent–were released just before Christmas–after more than four months in captivity.

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