A disturbing video posted online on New Year's Eve of two young Italian women, who were abducted by Islamic militants in Syria last year, has alarmed Italian officials who have been negotiating for their release.
In the 24 second video, uploaded to YouTube and titled "Al Nusra Front detains two Italian employees because of their government's participation in the coalition against it," aid volunteers Vanessa Marzullo and Greta Ramelli beg for the Italian government to bring them home.
The two girls, both in their 20's, are dressed in traditional black Islamic attire, displaying just their hands and face. Marzullo is seen holding up a piece of paper that has "17.12.14 Wednesday" written on it, while Ramelli reads a statement aloud.
"We supplicate our government and its mediators to bring us home before Christmas. We are in big danger and we could be killed. The government and mediators are responsible for our lives," she says.
The two young women were captured by Islamic militants last August while working on a humanitarian projects in the embattled city of Aleppo.
The video has yet to be verified by the Italian foreign ministry, according to The Independent, but Italy's La Repubblica newspaper has claimed the women have been sold twice already during their captivity.
A senior Italian diplomat told the Daily Beast that the timing of the video's posting is odd, as they believed they were close to successfully negotiating for the women's release.
According to the Arab press, the women's captors are an independent group of Islamic militants connected to Jabhat al-Nusra, the official al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, but not formally part of it.
However, Italian officials fear that the women are at increasing risk of being drawn into complicated jihadist politics in the war-torn country and traded by their captors to the more powerful Islamic State.
Formerly known as ISIS, the Islamic State is known for its brutal treatment of its foreign captives. Last year, the militant group beheaded journalists James Foley and Steve Sotloff and three Western aid workers, including American Peter Kassig.
Since June, the group has captured thousands of women and girls in their raids on non-Sunni Muslim towns and villages across northern Syria and western Iraq. Many of the captives are believed to be sold, traded or even gifted as sex slaves by the group's fighters.
Speaking to reporters in Rome, the Speaker of Italy's House of Deputies, Laura Boldrini, called the New Year's Video an SOS. "The girls send a cry for help...the situation of these girls is distressing."
Salvatore Marzullo, Vanessa's father said in a taped statement: "We have seen these images, the first of Vanessa and Greta in months, they seem ok even in spite of their difficult situation...there aren't many words to say now other than that we were glad to see them alive."