New wave of abductions in Iraq
Four kidnapped aid workers with the Chicago-based anti-war group Christian Peacemaker Teams appeared Tuesday on a videotape aired by the...
BAGHDAD, Iraq — Four kidnapped aid workers with the Chicago-based anti-war group Christian Peacemaker Teams appeared Tuesday on a videotape aired by the satellite television network Al Jazeera, signaling resumed abductions of Westerners by insurgents after a lull of many months.
Also Tuesday, six Iranian pilgrims were seized near a Shiite religious shrine, two U.S. soldiers were killed when their patrol hit a roadside bomb and a Sunni cleric was assassinated as he left a mosque.
Early today, in the central town of Baqouba, unidentified gunmen opened fire on a minibus, killing eight construction workers, the Diyala police said.
A previously unknown group called the Swords of Righteousness Brigade said it was holding the four Western hostages, calling them "spies" who were working undercover for coalition forces in the guise of being Christian peace activists, Al Jazeera said.
The network aired brief clips of the video, in which a camera pans across the men sitting cross-legged with their hands behind their backs against a wall and then shows a blurry selection of what appeared to be credit cards and other identity documents.
Christian Peacemaker Teams later identified the four as American Tom Fox, 54, of Clearbrook, Va.; Briton Norman Kember, 74, of London; James Loney, 41, of Toronto; and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, also a Canadian.
Also Tuesday, a videotape showing a kidnapped German woman flanked by gunmen was aired on German television, along with a threat by her captors to kill her unless Germany stops working with the U.S.-backed government in Iraq. German authorities identified the woman as Susanne Osthoff, an archaeologist and aid worker.
More than 200 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, and more than 50 have been executed.
Most abductions occurred in 2004 when the kidnapping spree began. The last American to be abducted was Jeffrey Ake, a contractor from Indiana who was seized in Baghdad in April. He has not been heard from since his captors aired a video.
An Irish journalist, Rory Carroll, was abducted for a day Oct. 19, but his captors were Shiites and the case appeared to be different from the typical kidnappings of foreigners by Sunni insurgent groups.
One reason for the decline in kidnappings of Westerners this year is the reduced presence of foreigners outside the heavily fortified Green Zone, where the U.S. Embassy and many of the contractors working on reconstruction are based.
Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark said he met with deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and found him in "extremely good spirits" even though the former president is isolated from friends and family.
Two men appeared in court Tuesday accused of mishandling official secrets in connection with a memo that, according to a newspaper account, showed that President Bush had proposed bombing the Arab news channel Al Jazeera and was talked out of it by Prime Minister Tony Blair. When the Daily Mirror published its account on Nov. 22, the White House dismissed the charge as ludicrous. But the general director of Qatar-based Al Jazeera has been in London this week seeking clarification from Blair.
The Air Force, under pressure from the Pentagon, committed a "gross error" last year when it rushed to sign a no-bid contract for advisers to help plan and implement Iraq's national elections and draft its constitution, the Government Accountability Office has ruled. New York-based REEP, a private translation company also known as Operational Support Services, was awarded two contracts worth more than $45 million. The firm was tasked with finding bilingual speakers "committed to a democratic Iraq" as part of a program a Pentagon official hoped would create "a nudge toward democracy," the report said.
Additional information from The Associated Press
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