A spokesman for the influential Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS) said on Thursday that Simona Pari and Simona Torretta were being held by a group that has no relation to the resistance.

Speaking to journalists at the committee's headquarters in Baghdad's Umm al-Qura mosque, spokesman Muthana al-Dhari explained why he did not think the two women were dead "because the material gain from holding them is big".
  
"I have my doubts about the whole operation from the start because the style and method all indicate that the kidnappers are an organised gang with no connection to the resistance." 
  
Doubtful claim

A group calling itself the Jihad Organization said on Thursday in a statement on the Internet that it had "slaughtered" the two hostages. The statement was posted on a website seldom used to make such claims.
  
Italian news agency ANSA said intelligence services in Rome also believed the Internet site which posted the execution claim was not very reliable. 

"These women have worked in Iraq for a long time and have served the Iraqi people so why would the insurgents target them or hurt them" 

Muthana al-Dhari,
spokesman,
Association of Muslim Scholars

An Islamist group calling itself the Islamic Jihad Organisation in Iraq had demanded that staunch US ally Italy withdraw its 3000 troops stationed in Iraq, or the two Italians would be killed.
  
Pari and Torretta were snatched from their office in a quiet neighbourhood of Baghdad on 7 September. 
  
AMS mediation

The AMS, which has been used as a mediator in previous cases of kidnappings, said it had not been contacted by the Italian authorities.
  
Al-Dhari said the motive behind the kidnapping of the two women is inconsistent with the goals of the insurgency, which has claimed in several statements that it would only go after those cooperating with and aiding the US-led occupation.
  
"These women have worked in Iraq for a long time and have served the Iraqi people so why would the insurgents target them or hurt them," he said.
  
Pari and Torretta were working for the Italian charity Un Ponte Per Baghdad (Bridge to Baghdad) which has been a long-standing opponent of Western policy towards Iraq.
  
The group campaigned vigorously against the crippling UN sanctions enforced against Iraq from its 1990 invasion of Kuwait right up to last year.