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4 US contractors killed, mutilated in Iraq
Updated: 2004-04-14 07:26

Bodies of at least four men believed to be among the seven civilian contractors missing in Iraq since Friday were found Tuesday in a shallow grave near the site of the explosion of a convoy in which they were traveling.

The four are among seven civilians and two U.S. soldiers missing after an attack on Friday.

Officials in both Baghdad and Washington told NBC News that the bodies were found near the intersection of highways 1 and 10 on the road between Abu Ghraib and Fallujah, very close to the site of the explosion. Officials say they were directed to the site by an Iraqi who told coalition authorities that Americans were buried there.

The bodies were "mutilated beyond recognition," according to two officials, but there was no agreement as to whether the mutilation was a result of the fire that consumed the convoy or was carried out after the attack and fire. One official said the number of bodies could not be precisely confirmed because of their condition.

French journalist taken hostage

The seven missing contractors were among about 40 foreign hostages from 12 countries being held by Iraqi insurgents. The FBI is investigating the abductions, a coalition spokesman said Tuesday.

The latest report of kidnapping came Tuesday and involved French journalists. NBC News' Carl Rochelle reported from Baghdad that two French journalists were taken, and one was later released.

Alexandre Jordanov, a cameraman for Capa Television, disappeared Sunday, according to an editor at the channel.

A television editor who worked with Jordanov on an investigative television show called "The Real News" said Jordanov disappeared on the road south of Baghdad while traveling with cameraman Ivan Ceriex.

In a joint statement, Capa and Canal Plus, the cable television channel that broadcasts Jordanov's show, said the two men had stopped their car to film a U.S. convoy under attack when they were caught in the crossfire.

The two were separated after fleeing in different directions for cover, and Ceriex was picked up by a group of armed Sunni fighters. Ceriex, who lost his identity papers, was released by his kidnappers when he convinced them that he was French, the statement said.

He was released Monday on the streets of Baghdad. Jordanov was believed to be alive and held by armed Sunni combatants, the statement said.

The kidnapping was reported just hours after France urged its citizens to leave Iraq. There are fewer than 100 French citizens in the country, mostly journalists, aid workers and the employees of private companies, Ladsous said. Nearly all were in Baghdad.

U.S. law enforcement role

Dan Senor, the spokesman for the U.S.-led administration in Iraq, 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 coalition tally differs from an Associated Press tally showing that 22 were being held hostage, while 35 others had been taken hostage and released. The discrepancy could not be immediately resolved.

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 by insurgents.

Nine Americans are also missing, including a Mississippi man known to have been kidnapped 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 LLC Security in Lorton, Va., 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.

Apology demanded

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.

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 kidnappings 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 before 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.

'Escalation of tensions'

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," Yakovenko 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.

Chinese hostages freed

Seven Chinese men abducted in Fallujah were freed late Monday, the Chinese government said. A brief Foreign Ministry statement from Beijing said the men were released to an Iraqi religious group who passed them on to diplomats. "Their health and spirits are good," the statement said.

The seven 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. The official Xinhua News Agency described them as villagers who went to the Middle East on their own.

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.

Japanese face death threat

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.

Thailand and New Zealand said their forces in Iraq had been confined to their quarters because of increasing unrest, and both governments said they were mulling whether to bring them home early. Thailand's 443-member contingent of soldiers is scheduled to stay in Iraq until September. New Zealand has 60 army engineers in the southern city of Basra.

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