Islamic Jihad said Saturday that it will not release its remaining American hostages in Lebanon until its demands are met, apparently dashing hopes for a quick release of the captives.
In a statement released in Beirut, the shadowy terrorist group declared that Washington should take "wider steps" to meet its demands but was vague about their precise nature.
The typewritten statement was accompanied by a black and white photograph of one of the group's two remaining hostages: Terry A. Anderson, chief Middle East correspondent of the Associated Press, who was kidnaped in March, 1985. The other American believed being held by the group is Thomas Sutherland, dean of agriculture at the American University of Beirut, who was abducted in June of last year.
Reference to Buckley
The communique reiterated the terrorists' contention that they killed a third hostage, William Buckley, who was a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut when he was abducted in 1984. Islamic Jihad, whose name means Islamic Holy War, labeled Buckley a CIA agent and added that it has "volumes of videotaped and handwritten statements" to prove its accusation.
"The American government should realize very well that we shall not resolve the issue of the hostages unless our demands are met," the statement continued. "We shall not budge a fraction of a fingertip on this."
In the past, Islamic Jihad--believed to consist of Shia Muslim extremists loyal to Iran--has demanded that Kuwait release 17 Muslim extremists who were imprisoned following bombing attacks against the French and U.S. embassies there in December, 1983. However, Saturday's statement made no mention of that demand.
It decried the "propaganda furor" raised in the West after its Nov. 2 release of David P. Jacobsen, a hostage who was held in Lebanon for 17 months.
Contacts With U.S.
After Jacobsen's release, it was disclosed that U.S. officials had engaged in secret contacts with Iranian officials for the purposes of improving relations and possibly gaining release of the Lebanon captives.
The reports culminated Thursday in President Reagan's admission in a speech that the United States had sent a "small amount" of defensive arms and spare parts to Iran.
"David Jacobsen's release was the result of some moves that would lead, if continued, to a solution of the hostage issue," the statement said. "The American government should take a bigger role and wider steps to meet our demands and resolve the hostage question."
Although both Reagan and the Iranians have denied that a "swap" took place, the delivery of arms and spare parts to the Iranians appeared to be a direct effort to obtain the release of the hostages.
Divisions Within Iran
Islamic Jihad's statement Saturday, which was delivered to a news agency in Beirut, appeared to be an attempt by the group to distance itself from Iran over the hostage question.
Iranian officials, particularly Parliament Speaker Hashemi Rafsanjani, have stressed recently that they have no direct influence over Islamic Jihad and asserted that no negotiations had taken place with the American envoy, Robert C. McFarlane, despite Reagan's admission that talks had occurred. The relative moderates among the Iranian leadership apparently fear that they will be branded tools of the American "Great Satan" by more radical elements of the regime.
In addition to the nature of the Iranian link with Islamic Jihad, another unanswered question was what effect the growing dispute between Washington and the government of Syria will have on the hostage question.
Last week, two French hostages held in Lebanon by a group calling itself the Revolutionary Justice Organization were released after Syrian intercession on France's behalf.
On Friday, the Reagan Administration announced a package of sanctions against the Damascus regime in retaliation for what Britain has called proof of Syria's involvement in an attempt to blow up an Israeli airliner in London last April.
On Saturday, Damascus radio said the Reagan Administration "has taken a new, aggressive and provocative step against Syria" by imposing the additional sanctions.
Following the conviction of a Jordanian journalist in London on charges of attempting to blow up the plane, Britain broke relations with Damascus and the United States withdrew its ambassador there.
The new measures announced Friday included canceling air traffic rights between the two countries, reduction of U.S. Embassy staff levels in Damascus and a call on American oil companies to leave the country.
"The Syrian government is examining the American Administration's position and its effect on bilateral relations," Damascus radio said.