BAGHDAD, Iraq - British soldiers backed by U.S. military helicopters battled
insurgents near the Kuwaiti border Friday, close to where a private security
team of four Americans and an Austrian were kidnapped. A top police official
said a criminal gang had snatched the men and demanded ransom.
British soldiers take position
behind a vehicle to avoid small arms fire during a patrol in Basra,
November 16, 2006. British and U.S. forces mounted raids in southern
Iraq on Friday, a day after four Americans and an Austrian were
abducted when the civilian convoy they were guarding was hijacked,
Iraqi security sources said. [Reuters]
Gunmen wearing police uniforms abducted the security team near Safwan, a
largely Sunni Arab city of 200,000 people in southern Iraq. The attack took
place shortly after the Westerners had crossed the Kuwaiti border with a large
convoy of supply trucks.
The convoy was traveling on the Iraq Military Road, which is infrequently
used by civilian vehicles. Sunni insurgents attack supply convoys on a daily
basis, not only on the roads from Kuwait but also from Turkey in the north and
Jordan in the west.
Basra police Maj. Gen. Ali al-Moussawi refused to give details of the ransom
demand late Friday after a series of confused and apparently incorrect reports
that variously claimed the Austrian had been found dead and one of the Americans
was gravely wounded. Another discounted report came from the Basra governor, who
had said two Americans were freed and one hostage killed.
Al-Moussawi said police believed the five employees of the Crescent Security
Co. were being held in the Safwan region along with trucks from the convoy.
Throughout the day, U.S. officials and the British military, which still has
about 7,000 troops in the Basra region, said they had no information on the
kidnapped security men.
The confusion in reports from Iraqi officials apparently grew out of their
having been unaware initially of a fresh incident on Friday involving a British
security team that had been stopped by Iraqi customs police on the same road
where the Crescent Security team was abducted.
Al-Moussawi said that as police checked the papers of the British security
men in the lead vehicle, a car drove by at high speed and opened fire, killing
one Briton and wounding a second in the car. British officials in Basra
confirmed an incident involving security men but would provide no details.
The police major general speculated that Basra Gov. Mohammed al-Waili was not
aware of that incident and had assumed the dead and wounded were from the group
of five kidnapped the day before.
British soldiers and U.S. military helicopters fought with gunmen in the area
where the Crescent Security Group convoy was hijacked, and coalition forces
searched for the hostages, according to an official for Crescent Security in
Kuwait. He would speak only on condition of anonymity.
British military spokesman Capt. Tane Dunlop said the British and U.S.
assault targeted gunmen who had been attacking coalition forces in the past few
days. He said the coalition force had been attacked by about 10 gunmen from farm
The British and U.S. forces returned fire, killing at least two of the
gunmen, Dunlop said in a telephone interview from Basra.
In London, a spokeswoman at Britain's Ministry of Defense said, "We were
looking to arrest individuals involved in terrorist activities." She said the
raid was unrelated to the Crescent Security hostages.
Neither Crescent Security nor the U.S. government has identified the missing
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 the Star Tribune newspaper and KSTP-TV in St. Paul, Minn.
Relatives identified Paul Reuben, 39, as an "easygoing, fun-loving type of
guy" who was ready to come home.
"He had that classic teddy bear disposition that made people like and care
about him," St. Louis Park (Minn.) Police Chief John D. Luse said.
Patrick Reuben said his brother had been in Iraq for about two years working
for Crescent Security and intended to earn enough money to buy a house and a
Hummer and then come home.
Their mother said Friday that she hopes the men holding her son "remember
their own mothers."
"I want them to think what it's like for a mother to want her son back,"
Johnnie Mae Reuben told The Associated Press. "I want my son back."
Crescent Security Group works mostly in Iraq, and its operations are based in
Kuwait. Many of its managers and employees are American.
A U.S. Embassy official, who refused to be identified because he was not
authorized to release the information, said the hijacked convoy included 43
heavy trucks and six security vehicles. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said
Thursday that preliminary reports suggested the convoy included about 19