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US Apache copter shot down west of Baghdad
Updated: 2004-04-11 17:32

Insurgents shot down a U.S. Apache attack helicopter in west Baghdad on Sunday, the military said. The fate of its two crewmembers was unknown.

Heavy fighting was taking place in the area for the third straight day.

"A 1st Cavalry A8-64 Apache helicopter was downed by unknown ground fire west of Baghdad at around 11:05 a.m. The condition of the crew is unknown," the spokesman said.

U.S. troops blocked traffic on the main highway out of Baghdad on the western edge. Large palls of black smoke were seen rising from the nearby area of Abu Ghraib, where at least four helicopters were seen hovering overhead.

In a videotape released Saturday, insurgents who kidnapped an American civilian threatened to kill and mutilate him unless U.S. forces withdraw from the city of Fallujah.

The tape of the American, broadcast on the Arab TV station Al-Jazeera, showed him identifying himself as Thomas Hamill, 43, from Mississippi. In other footage with no audio, he stood in front of an Iraqi flag, his expression calm but wary as his captors announced their threat on his life.

A voice-over read by an Al-Jazeera announcer quoted Hamill as saying he was being treated well and that he works for a "private company that supports the military action."

His wife, Kellie, contacted at their home in Macon, Miss., confirmed that her husband had been captured. She told The Associated Press he works for the Houston-based engineering and construction company Kellogg, Brown & Root, a division of Halliburton, and referred all other comment to the employer.

"I am in good shape," the voice-over quoted Hamill as saying. "They were good to me. They gave me antibiotics. I have no idea what is going on Fallujah. I hear there is a siege and people are living in some sort of prison."

"I hope to return home one day, and I want my family to know that these people are taking care of me, and provide me with food, water and a place to sleep."

Hamill stood in front of the red-white-and-black Iraqi flag, its emblazoned slogan "God is great" prominent above his head. His eyes darted back and forth, but he appeared calm.

His captors warned he would meet a worse fate than four American civilians killed in Fallujah on March 31, their bodies burned and mutilated by a mob, unless U.S. forces end their assault on the city "within 12 hours, starting 6 p.m." - 10 a.m. Saturday, EDT.

"At the end of this period, he will be treated worse than those who were killed and burned in Fallujah," the voice-over said.

Hamill was snatched Friday by gunmen who attacked a fuel convoy he was guarding on the main highway on Baghdad's western edge, the latest in a string of kidnappings in Iraq. Footage released earlier Saturday showed him being whisked away in a car, a gunman in the back seat with him waving an automatic weapon.

Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt refused to comment Saturday on efforts to free Hamill or other captives, saying it "would not be helpful to discuss" any plans.

Meanwhile, a group calling itself the "Marytr Ahmed Yassin Brigades" in the city of Ramadi, west of Baghdad and Fallujah, claimed in videotape obtained by APTN to have 30 hostages from a variety of countries.

The footage, also aired on Al-Arabiya TV, showed no images of any hostages, and there was no way to verify the group's claim to be holding "Japanese, Bulgarians, Americans, Israelis, Spanish and Koreans, a total of 30 individuals."

"If the siege of Fallujah is not lifted, we will cut off their heads," a masked man on the videotape said.

He also said his fighters killed four American soldiers and said "we have their bodies." The tape showed an image of a body with bloody khaki pants and covered with a blanket, said to be one of the U.S. soldiers.

Insurgents elsewhere in Iraq have seized a Canadian and an Arab from Jerusalem. A British citizen and two German security officials from their country's embassy in Baghdad are also missing, though it is not known if they have been kidnapped.

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