11 Russians seized, Chinese freed
Eleven Russian civilians are the latest foreigners reported to have been kidnapped in Iraq, but China's official Xinhua news agency said Tuesday seven Chinese had been freed.
The conflicting news on the fate of foreign hostages reflected the turmoil in Iraq, where U.S. forces have fought fierce battles with Sunni and Shi'ite guerrillas in the bloodiest violence since the fall of Saddam Hussein a year ago.
Some guerrillas have sought international publicity for their hostage-taking to demand that their captives' governments withdraw troops from the U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq.
A group holding three Japanese said last week it would burn them alive unless Japan pulled out its troops, while another has threatened to kill American Thomas Hamill if U.S. forces do not stop fighting Sunni guerrillas in Falluja, west of Baghdad.
The U.S. military said a total of seven American civilian contractors, as well as two U.S. soldiers, were missing. The contractors worked for U.S. company Kellogg, Brown & Root and went missing after an attack on a U.S. fuel convoy Friday.
Muslim clerics have been involved in negotiations to secure the release of hostages, but little or nothing has been heard of some of the foreigners since they went missing.
RUSSIANS REPORTED KIDNAPPED AFTER SHOOTOUT
Al Jazeera, citing an unnamed Russian source, reported the 11 Russians were kidnapped in Baghdad after a shootout between their Iraqi guards and the abductors.
The Arabic television station said its correspondent in Moscow was told about the kidnapping by a Russian energy company, Interenergoservice, for which the Russians worked.
A Russian engineer in Iraq told Al Jazeera the 11 worked at power plants.
Three Czech journalists were also reported Monday to have gone missing.
Xinhua said the freed Chinese were kidnapped in Falluja on Sunday and that two of the seven had been slightly injured in an accident. It did not elaborate and did not say what they were doing in Iraq.
Al Jazeera aired footage of the Chinese hostages, released to a Sunni clerical organization and then handed over to Chinese diplomats.
The seven were from China's southeastern coastal province of Fujian. The oldest was 49 and the youngest 18.
China issued a strong advisory urging Chinese citizens not to travel to Iraq and the People's Daily, mouthpiece of Beijing's Communist Party, said many Chinese companies that returned after the U.S.-led war had stepped up security.
Japan, sharply divided over Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's dispatch of troops to Iraq, has been on tenterhooks since kidnappers released a video Thursday showing the three Japanese captives blindfolded and with guns to their heads.
The Kyodo news agency quoted a self-proclaimed mediator working for the release of three as saying the kidnappers had agreed not to kill them.
Muzhir al-Duleimi, head of the previously unknown League for the Defense of the Rights of the Iraqi People, had contacted the kidnappers and been told the "health conditions of the three hostages are good," the agency said.
Among other hostage incidents, a British contractor who had been held for six days was released Sunday.
A masked man said on a video tape Sunday that eight other hostages -- three Pakistanis, two Turks, an Indian, a Nepalese and a Filipino -- had also been freed. No independent confirmation was available.
Last week, gunmen kidnapped seven South Korean evangelical church pastors but freed them the same day.