BEIRUT — Muslim kidnapers released a videotape Thursday of American hostage Alann Steen, and he appeared in good health despite earlier claims by his captors that he was near death.
It was the first communication from any group of kidnapers since April 2, when fellow American hostage Jesse Turner said in a videotaped message that he feared Steen would die in a few hours.
"We are very pleased to see that Alann is still alive and that he is still trying to cope with what has happened to him," Steen's wife, Virginia, said while viewing the videotape at Beirut University College where she works. "It was really encouraging to see Alann speaking and talking."
The videotape contained no clue as to when it was made.
Steen and Turner were kidnaped Jan. 24 along with two other professors at Beirut University College. Twenty-four foreigners, including eight Americans, are missing after being kidnaped in Beirut since March, 1985.
In the three-minute tape released to the Beirut newspaper An Nahar, Steen repeated his kidnapers' demand that Israel free 400 Arab prisoners.
Israel has refused to consider the kidnapers' demand, and the United States said it would not bring pressure to bear on the Israelis.
The tape, delivered to the newspaper in a white envelope, showed Steen reading a statement in awkward English phrasing that suggested it may have been written by his captors.
Steen, 48, of Boston, said that members of the Islamic Jihad for the Liberation of Palestine who hold him had saved his life. He also condemned American policy in the Middle East.
Previous communiques from the kidnapers had warned that Steen would soon die, citing high blood pressure and breathing difficulties. But he looked healthy in the tape delivered Thursday.
"Once again I show up as a witness who is still alive, a witness that was thrown by American officials with his people into this problem," Steen said. "I know that they wish us a longer absence and even death."
Steen said his captors tried "all possible ways in order to save me because they are Muslims. I don't deserve all this, but they have their sacred ideological motives that don't allow them to leave me to die."