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FBI Probes About 40 Abductions in Iraq

FBI Probes About 40 Abductions in Iraq

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- About 40 foreign hostages from 12 countries are being held by Iraqi insurgents, and the FBI is investigating the abductions, a coalition spokesman said Tuesday.

Dan Senor, the spokesman for the U.S.-led administration, said it would not negotiate with "terrorists or kidnappers" to gain the hostages' release. He would not comment on efforts to free the captives.

"The FBI is working with coalition forces and Iraqi security forces to seek out the hostage-takers and the hostages," Senor said. "We have a number of other law enforcement agencies from the international community who are working on this."

Four Italians working as private security guards for a U.S. company in Iraq were reported missing Tuesday, and an Arab satellite TV broadcaster said they were kidnapped.

Nine Americans are also missing, including a Mississippi man whose abductors have threatened to kill him.

Earlier Tuesday, eight employees of a Russian energy company were released unharmed after being seized by masked gunmen who broke into their house in Baghdad. They spent less than a day in captivity, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

The Italian foreign ministry said its civilians worked for the U.S.-based DTS Security company and were first reported missing Monday. The Italian news agency AGI and other reports said the four were taken hostage in Fallujah, 35 miles west of Baghdad.

At DTS Security in northern Virginia, operations director Jim Villegas told The Associated Press, "We have no personnel in Iraq."

Al-Jazeera broadcast a video showing four Italians sitting on the floor holding their passports. Behind them were men with machine guns.

The kidnappers demanded the Italian government -- and specifically Premier Silvio Berlusconi -- issue an apology for Italy's insult to Islam and Muslims, Al-Jazeera said. They also want Italy, which has 3,000 troops in Iraq, to withdraw according to a specific timetable.

There was no immediate reaction from Berlusconi. European Affairs Minister Rocco Buttiglione told the ANSA news agency that there would be no negotiations with "terrorists," although he added that Italy will do "everything possible to guarantee the safety of the kidnapped Italian citizens."

Italy has been a strong supporter of the U.S.-led war in Iraq. It did not send combat troops, but a contingent based in the southern town of Nasiriyah is helping with reconstruction.

The abduction of the five Ukrainians and three Russians at their residence Monday appeared to be a new tactic by kidnappers. All the past seizures have come on the roads, with civilians whisked away after their vehicles come under attack.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said no one had claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and no demands were known to have been made prior to the release. The men work for an energy company restoring a power plant near Baghdad.

The Foreign Ministry said the captives had returned to their residence in Baghdad and none was hurt.

Ukraine has 1,600 troops helping keep security in southern Iraq. Russia has none and opposed the U.S.-led war.

"Abductions of foreign citizens in Iraq have resulted from a sharp escalation of tensions in the country, for the security of which the coalition authorities are now responsible," he said.

The U.S. military said two American soldiers and seven employees of U.S. contractor Kellogg, Brown & Root were missing after their convoy was ambushed Friday near Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad.

Only one, Thomas Hamill, a 43-year-old truck driver from Macon, Miss., is known to have been abducted. His captors have threatened to kill and mutilate him unless U.S. troops ended their assault on the city of Fallujah. The deadline passed Sunday with no word on his fate.

The Defense Department identified the two missing soldiers as Sgt. Elmer C. Krause, 40, of Greensboro, N.C., and Pfc. Keith M. Maupin, 20, of Batavia, Ohio. Both were assigned to the Army Reserves 724th Transportation Company, Bartonville, Ill.

Seven Chinese men abducted in Fallujah on Sunday were freed a day later in good health and good spirits, Beijing said. A brief Foreign Ministry statement from Beijing said the men were released to an Iraqi religious group, which passed them on to diplomats.

China hasn't contributed troops in Iraq and it was unclear why the seven were there. The official Xinhua News Agency described them as villagers who went to the Middle East on their own from a region with a tradition of sending migrants abroad.

In Tokyo, optimism faded Monday that three Japanese civilians abducted last week would be released quickly after a top government spokesman suggested authorities were no longer confident of their safety.

The two aid workers and a photojournalist were being held by a previously unknown group calling itself the "Mujahedeen Brigades," which demanded the withdrawal of Japanese troops from Iraq or it would kill the captives in three days. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has refused to consider such a move, and the deadline passed with no word on the fate of the hostages.

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 their nationalities or say where they were. A member of his office reached later said the number of those released was unclear.

Earlier, Islamic Clerics Committee spokesman Muthanna Harith 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 were included.

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

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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