Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Nine missing after U.S. convoy attack

Recent abductions of foreigners top 40

By Hamza Hendawi
The Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Two U.S. troops and seven contractors were confirmed missing Monday after an attack on a convoy west of Baghdad, a U.S. commander said, amid a wave of abductions of foreigners in Iraq.

More than 40 foreigners from at least 12 countries - including a Mississippi man whose fate also was unclear - have reportedly been kidnapped in recent days by insurgents.

Seven Chinese men abducted by gunmen in the city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, were freed late Monday after a day in captivity, the Chinese government said.

A Foreign Ministry statement from Beijing said the men were released to an Iraqi religious group, which passed them on to diplomats.

Many of the reports of kidnappings have been surrounded by confusion and have not been officially confirmed.

The Qatar-based al-Jazeera TV station, meanwhile, reported Monday that a Russian energy company said 11 of its employees were kidnapped in Iraq during a clash in Baghdad that killed two Iraqi security guards. The Russian Foreign Ministry said today that eight Russian workers were kidnapped, the Interfax news agency reported.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez said the two American troops and seven employees of U.S. contractor Kellogg, Brown & Root were missing from a convoy, which was ambushed Friday near Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad. He declined to say whether they were abducted.

Also Monday, a member of the U.S.-appointed Governing Council said at least 12 foreign hostages have been released. Mohsen Abdul-Hamid did not identify the nationalities of the released hostages or where they were.

However, a member of his office reached later said the number of those released was unclear.

Earlier, Muthanna Harith, spokesman for Islamic Clerics Committee, said insurgents had released nine hostages of various nationalities, including Turks and Pakistanis. It was not clear if he and Abdul-Hamid were referring to the same hostages, or if the Chinese mentioned in the Xinhua report were included in that number.

The nine were truck drivers for military supply convoys, which have come under heavy attack in recent days by gunmen on the outskirts of Baghdad.

Eight of the nine freed hostages appeared in a video broadcast Sunday on Al-Jazeera. The eight included two Turks, three Pakistanis, a Nepalese, a Filipino and an Indian. The identity of the ninth was not immediately known.

Harith said he had no word on three Japanese civilians abducted last week.

The seven Chinese had entered Iraq from Jordan on Saturday and were captured the next day, China's Foreign Ministry said.

China hasn't contributed troops to the U.S.-led military force in Iraq, and it was unclear why the seven were there.

American Thomas Hamill, 43, a truck driver for a U.S. contractor in Iraq, was seized Friday by gunmen who attacked a fuel convoy. His captors threatened to kill him unless U.S. troops ended their assault on Fallujah. The deadline passed Sunday.

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