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McNaught reassures hostages

Published: 3:31PM Thursday August 24, 2006 Source: One News/RNZ

Broadcaster Anita McNaught has issued a statement in response to a video showing her captured husband Olaf Wiig and his American colleague alive and well, assuring them she is working for their release.

A previously unknown group, the Holy Jihad Brigades, has claimed responsibility and released a video of TV cameraman Wiig and his co-captor, American journalist Steve Centanni. 

"I know my family will already be doing this but if you could apply any political pressure on local government here in Gaza and the West Bank that would be much appreciated," Wiig says in the video.

McNaught assured her husband she is doing what he asked.

"I would like to send a message to my husband Olaf and to Steve. Olaf you are right - we are doing everything we can, I am doing everything I can here in Gaza to secure your release," McNaught said.

"Stay strong and know that the Palestinian people around me have been very kind. You both know how much you are loved."

The news that Wiig is alive nine days after his capture in Gaza has come as a huge relief to his family in New Zealand waiting for news.

"I can say we're relieved. It's been a fairly tough nine days now and we're anxiously waiting. It's clearly one step closer to resolution of the problem and we're looking forward to final resolution," says his father Roger Wiig.

However, that relief is no doubt mixed with apprehension.

In a fax to news agencies, the Holy Jihad Brigades demanded the United States release Muslim prisoners in US prisons within 72 hours, in return for the men - a demand the United States has said it will not bow to.

A spokesperson for the US State Department has called for the unconditional release of the journalists and says the American government does not make concessions to terrorists.

Those sentiments have been echoed by Prime Minister Helen Clark.

"The New Zealand Government doesn't negotiate over such demands."

Clark says she is pleased the two appear well but says she remains deeply concerned for their safety.  

There are growing fears the kidnapping has the hallmarks of al Qaeda.

"It's very alarming because it seems to me that an al Qaeda branch appears to have emerged in Gaza," says Middle east expert Professor Fawaz Gerges.

Meanwhile, the government is sending a senior New Zealand police officer to the Middle East to join the consular team working towards the release of kidnapped cameraman Olaf Wiig. 

Clark says Inspector Rob Abbott has left to join the two Foreign Affairs staff working on the ground in Israel and Gaza.  She says he will provide technical expertise and liaise with local law enforcement officers.