France scrambled to secure the release of two French journalists kidnapped by Iraqi militants who gave Paris until Monday evening to drop its controversial ban on Muslim headscarves in schools.
French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier, in Egypt as part of a French mission to rally support in Iraq and the region, made an impassioned plea to the Islamic Army in Iraq to free Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot.
The militant group, which last week said it killed Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni, Saturday gave the French government 48 hours to rescind the headscarf ban, without saying what would happen to the two Frenchmen if it did not comply.
“We will continue, come what may, to follow all contacts … with civil and religious personalities to explain what is the reality of the French republic … and obtain the release of these people,” Barnier said in Cairo.
Iraqi Sunni and Shi’ite Muslim groups at the forefront of opposition to U.S.-led forces and Islamic groups outside Iraq urged the kidnappers to release the journalists, citing France’s position on Iraq and saying journalists were not combatants.
The crisis stunned France, which waged a high-profile campaign to oppose the U.S.-led war in Iraq, and because of this considered itself safe from militant attack. France also opposed the 1990-2003 economic sanctions on Iraq.0