Abducted contractors caught by surprise
It was a routine trip, along the same stretch of highway the contractors of Crescent Security Group drove nearly every day. As their convoy neared...
The Washington Post
BAGHDAD, Iraq — It was a routine trip, along the same stretch of highway the contractors of Crescent Security Group drove nearly every day. As their convoy neared the Iraqi police checkpoint outside the border town of Safwan on Thursday afternoon, everything seemed normal, according to accounts provided to company officials by men who participated in the convoy.
They were escorting 43 empty tractor-trailers from Kuwait to Tallil Air Base, near the southern city of Nasiriyah. The convoy was protected by five Crescent gun trucks with belt-fed machine guns. The convoy reached the checkpoint and stopped.
Suddenly, one of the contractors pushed the panic button, a locating device used in emergencies. About 30 gunmen were converging on the convoy trucks and cars, according to information gathered by Crescent employees and the U.S. and British militaries. Most wore camouflage uniforms and carried AK-47 assault rifles. As many as six were dressed in business suits, military and Crescent sources said.
When it ended, the attackers had abducted five security contractors — four Americans and an Austrian. Two others — one British, one Chilean — were left bound and kneeling by the side of the road, where they were discovered unhurt by the U.S. military.
The kidnappers also seized one of the gun trucks and 19 tractor-trailers, along with nine Pakistani, Indian and Filipino drivers, who were later released. None of the freed drivers was harmed, said George Picco, general manager of Crescent. "Mentally, of course, they were affected."
U.S. and British officials said Friday that the gunmen had posed as police and that the checkpoint was fake.
As of Friday night, no group had asserted responsibility for the kidnappings.
Killings continue: At least 52 Iraqi deaths were reported nationwide Friday. Fifteen were killed by gun or mortar fire and 37 bodies were found dumped with multiple gunshot wounds, many showing signs of torture.
U.S. soldier slain: A soldier was killed Thursday in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, the U.S. military reported.
Political crisis: An official close to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki disavowed an arrest warrant issued Thursday against the country's most influential Sunni leader. The official said the Iraqi leader had not known his interior minister was planning to call for the arrest of the revered leader of the Association of Muslim Scholars, Sheik Harith al-Dhari. Al-Dhari said the government's bid to arrest him was illegal, and his spokesman urged Sunni politicians to quit the parliament and government.
Dutch abuse alleged: Dutch military interrogators abused dozens of Iraqi prisoners in 2003, dousing them with water to keep them awake and exposing them to high-pitched noises and strong lights, Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant reported Friday. Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said the allegations must be investigated.
The Associated Press
On Friday in small, dusty hamlets around Safwan, nestled along two main highways, British troops, with support from U.S. and Iraqi forces, scoured the countryside, hunting for the captive contractors.
Throughout the day, there were conflicting reports about the fate of the five men. The governor of Basra province, Mohammed al-Waeli, announced that two of the Americans had been freed and the Austrian killed. But a senior Iraqi police official in Zubair, a town near Safwan, and a top police official in Basra said none of the hostages had been released.
Neither Crescent Security nor the U.S. government has identified the missing Americans. However, a State Department official informed the family of Paul Reuben, 39, a former suburban Minneapolis police officer who was working as a security contractor in Iraq, that he was among those captured, his brother, Patrick Reuben, told news media in St. Paul, Minn.
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.
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