DUBAI ? (UPDATE) An Italian being held captive with his wife by an Al-Qaeda group has, in an audio message, pleaded with the Rome government to try to secure their release, US-monitoring agency SITE said on Sunday.
The message, released by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), was accompanied by a picture showing the bearded captive, Sergio Cicala, kneeling in front of a group of armed and masked men, SITE said.
It came on the eve of a deadline set by the kidnappers for the Italian government to release prisoners in exchange for the captives.
Cicala, 65, and his Burkina Faso-born wife Philomene Kabore, 39, were abducted by AQIM in southeast Mauritania on December 18.
SITE, which monitors Islamist websites, said the message, just over a minute long, was made by Cicala and was entitled "Call from the kidnapped Italian to the Berlusconi government."
In the message, delivered in Italian, Cicala stated his name and age and that he was kidnapped with his wife on December 18.
"My liberty and my wife's depends on the concessions that the government is ready to make," he said, "I hope that as soon as possible the government interests itself in our situation and, consequently, in our lives.?
"We wait with hope that this situation might end in as soon as possible, naturally in the best way possible with the release of me and of my wife," he said.
"The prime minister (Silvio Berlusconi) has always been known for his great generosity. I really hope he can help me and my wife."
A spokesman for the Italian foreign ministry would not comment on the audio message.
There was no way immediately to independently verify the message, which SITE said was dated February 24.
AQIM on February 5 gave the Italian government 25 days to comply with its demand for the release of prisoners.
In a brief statement from AQIM accompanying Cicala's message, the group called on Italians to pressure their government to meet the demands of the kidnappers.
"We reaffirm our call to the families of the kidnapped and to Italian public opinion: If you desire the safety of the captives, then apply pressure on your offending government and ask it to respond to the legitimate demands of the mujahedeen."