OFFICIALS had been unable to confirm reports that two Australians were being held hostage under the threat of death in Iraq, Prime Minister John Howard said today.
Mr Howard said the Australian ambassador in Baghdad and other officials were trying to verify the claims.
A statement issued overnight and attributed to the Horror Brigades of the Islamic Secret Army gave Australia 24 hours to pull its troops out of Iraq.
It said it had taken security contractors hostage and they would be executed if the demand was not met.
Mr Howard said today: "The ambassador and the authorities in Iraq are trying to find out whether this report is accurate.
"So far we've not had confirmation of that."
He said Australians should try to contact relatives and friends known to be in Iraq.
"If they have difficulty getting in touch with them (they should) be in touch with the Department of Foreign Affairs."
The Horror Brigades is believed to be linked to the Secret Islamic Army, which has claimed responsibility for a number of hostage executions.
Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer said today all of the 88 Australian civilians registered with the Australian embassy in Baghdad had been accounted for.
Checks had also been conducted with four companies that employed Australians.
Three companies were satisfied with their checks, but one company had expressed concerns and was carrying out a re-check, Mr Downer said.
The statement from the militant group said: "One of our brave brigades ambushed civilian cars belonging to the American army on the motorway from Baghdad to Mosul.
"It took four prisoners - two Australians and two east Asian nationals who were working as security contractors for important people.
"We tell the infidels of Australia that they have 24 hours to leave Iraq or the two Australians will be killed without a second chance.
"The prime minister must announce the withdrawal personally if he is concerned about his two citizens."
The Australian consular emergency centre can be contacted on 1300 555 135.
Two Australians kidnapped in Iraq: report
News agency Agence France Presse (AFP) is reporting a claim by Iraqi militants that they have taken two Australians hostage and they are threatening to execute them.
The statement, allegedly from the Islamic Secret Army, says two Australians and two Asians have been kidnapped.
The statement was delivered in the Sunni Muslim bastion of Samarra today.
The statement gives Canberra a 24-hour deadline to end its interests in Iraq or see the hostages executed, but there was no immediate confirmation of the ultimatum's authenticity.
"One of our brave brigades ambushed civilian cars belonging to the American army on the motorway from Baghdad to (the main northern city of) Mosul," said the statement dated Monday.
"It took four prisoners, two Australians and two east Asian nationals who were working as security contractors for important people," it said.
"We tell the infidels of Australia that they have 24 hours to leave Iraq or the two Australians will be killed without a second chance."
AG: "So far we've not had confirmation of that." I'm always to hear that...
Horror Brigades of the Islamic Secret Army That the first time to hear this.