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U.S. Man Held in Iraq Seen On Video

Contractor Described As Pleading for Life; Bomb Attacks Kill 14

By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, April 14, 2005; Page A01

BAGHDAD, April 13 -- A distraught American hostage appeared on a television videotape with automatic weapons trained on his head Wednesday, a day that recalled the darker periods of Iraq's insurgency as bombs killed at least 14 people and U.S. Marines clashed with insurgents near the Syrian border.

As insurgent attacks have diminished since national elections on Jan. 30, Iraqi and U.S. officials have focused largely on shaping the country's political future and have expressed hope that the insurgency was winding down. But a tape broadcast on al-Jazeera television showed a scene more typical of last summer and fall: a foreigner described as pleading for his life as three gunmen pointed automatic weapons at his head.

Jeffrey J. Ake, 47, a contractor from Indiana, was kidnapped Monday.

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Jeffrey J. Ake, 47, of LaPorte, Ind., apparently reading from a statement on a wooden desktop in front of him, asked the United States to start a dialogue with Iraqi insurgents, to start withdrawing its forces from Iraq and to save his life, according to al-Jazeera. In one hand, he held open what appeared to be a U.S. passport, and in the other, an ID card. Al-Jazeera broadcast only a few words of his voice.

The White House announced that authorities were monitoring the situation but would not negotiate for Ake's release. Ake was kidnapped Monday from a water treatment facility near Baghdad where he worked as a contractor on a reconstruction project.

Meanwhile, four other American contractors were among those wounded Wednesday by a car bomb in Baghdad that killed five Iraqis. The victims were traveling between the capital and the nearby airport in a Defense Department convoy when the bomb detonated.

Al Qaeda in Iraq, the insurgent group led by the Jordanian guerrilla Abu Musab Zarqawi, asserted responsibility for the attack in an Internet statement.

In northern Iraq, a bomb killed at least nine Iraqi police officers as they were defusing another explosive device planted beneath an oil pipeline near the city of Kirkuk.

The dead men were members of an anti-sabotage unit for oil fields, according to Afran Hannah, a police colonel. They had successfully disabled one bomb -- apparently a decoy -- only to have a second, hidden bomb explode nearby. Five Iraqis were wounded in the incident.

And on Iraq's long border with Syria, U.S. Marines battled guerrillas claiming ties to al Qaeda for a third consecutive day. The U.S. military said Wednesday that Marines had killed 30 insurgents Monday and Tuesday as they repeatedly attempted to overrun an isolated Marine outpost and a nearby Iraqi army outpost.

The attacks on Camp Gannon, in the town of Husaybah, started Monday with simultaneous assaults by gunmen and the detonation of vehicle bombs, including a firetruck packed with explosives.

Insurgents said fighters from Zarqawi's organization and the Iraqi group Mohammad's Army were fighting together against U.S. forces in the nearby city of Qaim.

Fighters asserted in a statement that 23 of their men had been killed, including 14 from Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Kuwait and other foreign countries.

U.S. Marines in Qaim took up positions on rooftops and called over loudspeakers for the city's people to surrender the armed men hiding among them, witnesses said.

The witnesses said Iraqi security forces had abandoned the city. "I saw two police cars driven by masked men," said Abdul Sattar Kubaisi, 48, who watched the scene from behind the gate of his home. "The policemen left the city, and the armed men took their weapons and cars that they left in the police stations."

A statement posted in mosques in Qaim, purportedly by al Qaeda in Iraq, threatened attacks on U.S. bases and other targets across Iraq if American forces did not withdraw from the city in 12 hours.

Zarqawi's group has staged two large-scale attacks on U.S. forces in the past two weeks, a tactical shift from smaller strikes that has been described as a bid to reinvigorate the insurgency. The first attack was on the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison, west of Baghdad.

Before al-Jazeera aired the video of Ake on Wednesday, U.S. officials had released no details about his identity.

Ake is president and chief executive of Equipment Express, whose products include machines that fill water bottles, the Associated Press reported.

He was he first American of solely U.S. citizenship seized since November; an Iraqi American was kidnapped last month with three Romanian journalists and remains in captivity.

More than 200 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq in the past year. Dozens have been killed, including several Americans.

Special correspondent Marwan Ani in Kirkuk contributed to this report.

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