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Hostage Was Working to Rebuild Iraq

By Kari Lydersen
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, April 14, 2005; Page A19

LAPORTE, Ind., April 13 -- An Indiana businessman taken hostage while working to give Iraqis access to cooking oil and clean water showed up on Arabic television Wednesday, reportedly asking the Bush administration to withdraw troops from Iraq and save his life.

Jeffrey J. Ake, a successful equipment exporter, held up his passport as masked gunmen stood by his side. As the news spread to his home town in northern Indiana, the local police chief asked neighbors and friends to "hope and pray and wait."

Officers walk down Jeffrey J. Ake's driveway in LaPorte, Ind. The police chief urged residents to "hope and pray." (M. Spencer Green -- AP)

"I believe it is a terrible situation for the family, and we have to keep them in our thoughts and pray for his safe return," Police Chief David Gariepy said outside Ake's lakeside home, where a tree was adorned with a yellow ribbon. "It devastates all of us as Americans when someone from our country is involved in something like this."

The White House announced that U.S. authorities were monitoring the situation but said there will be no negotiations for Ake's release.

In LaPorte -- and nearby Rolling Prairie, where Ake is president of Equipment Express -- people reacted with shock and dismay.

"It's the talk of the town," said John Diedrich, proprietor of the Blue Heron inn. He described Ake, who is active in his church and community organizations, as a "hard-working, good guy."

Todd Cannon, former national sales manager for Ake's company, which makes equipment for packaging liquids, said, "I feel terrible. He's a guy I aspire to be a lot like." He said he saw Ake's enthusiasm when he last spoke with him a few months ago.

"He's always been very excited about doing projects like this," Cannon said. "He assured himself he would be safe and that he would be in good hands."

Ake, 47, is part of a foreign legion trying to rebuild Iraq after years of war and neglect. Kidnappers abducted him Monday as he worked on a water treatment plant, according to news reports from Iraq. There was no news of him until he appeared Wednesday on al-Jazeera.

Decorated as a creative entrepreneur in northern Indiana, Ake made money and won clients by venturing abroad to sell his products. He often said business owners should not be deterred or intimidated.

"Get yourself over there and sell. I can't emphasize that enough," Ake wrote in a 1993 essay for a business publication. "The power of the personal sales call by an American salesperson in a foreign country is incredible. You'll have a much higher closing rate there than at home."

Staff writer Peter Slevin contributed to this report from Chicago. Research editor Lucy Shackelford contributed from Washington.

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