Waiting for News on Five Westerners Held in Iraq
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.
The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad says it is investigating reports that an American citizen was kidnapped yesterday near Basra. Reuters describes the victim as a civilian American contractor, but an embassy spokesman says he is unable to confirm that.
Five security contractors have been missing since the fall. Now a videotape has surfaced showing the four Americans and one Austrian were alive as of two weeks ago. And that has given some cause for hope to friends and relatives.
NPR's Allison Keyes reports.
ALLISON KEYES: The men were kidnapped November 16th when gunmen in Iraqi police uniforms ambushed a convoy of trucks being escorted by the men's employer, Kuwait-based Crescent Security Group. The videotape delivered to the Associated Press is very short, each of the five men gives a short statement to the camera.
Mr. JON COTE (Hostage): My name is Jon Cote. I'm from Buffalo, New York. I can't be released until the prisoners from the American jails and the British jails are release.
Mr. JOHN R. YOUNG (Hostage): My name is John R. Young. I'm 44 years old. I'm from Kansas City, Missouri. I'm well, my friends are well, we've been treated well.
KEYES: Young's father, Jon Young, Sr., told a Utah TV station it was good to see his son alive, though he'd like to see him in better condition. He thinks his son will be okay.
The video is time stamped December 21st of 2006 for all of the men, except former police officer Paul Johnson Reuben.
Mr. PAUL JOHNSON REUBEN (Hostage): Hello, my name is Paul Johnson Reuben. I'm from Buffalo, Minnesota. Today's date is 22 December 2006. I just wanted to let my family know that I'm doing well.
KEYES: His mother, Johnnie Reuben, told the Associated Press that news of the video made her more hopeful because it was recently made. But Reuben's family declined to speak with NPR, saying federal law enforcement officials had urged them not to speak to the media. Reuben's former boss at the St. Louis Park Police Department in Minneapolis, Chief John Luce, says such a request makes sense because one never knows what's on the minds of the captors.
Chief JOHN LUCE (St. Louis Park, Minnesota): Because you really don't know what their tripwires are, or what their motives are, it's probably best to say less because you might say the wrong thing. And none of us wants to do that. None of us wants to jeopardize Paul.
KEYES: Luce says he remembers Reuben as a father who was quick to smile and was liked both by his co-workers and people in the community.
Chief LUCE: Paul has always had the knack to smile in adversity. That was a quality of his when he worked here. He's just a happy guy by nature and I think he's an optimist, and he finds a silver lining if there is one.
KEYES: Luce says Reuben's family was maintaining hope when he last spoke to them.
In Vienna, Austrian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Astrid Harz, says the family of Bert Nussbaumer is doing the same thing.
Ms. ASTRID HARZ (Spokesperson, Austrian Foreign Ministry): They are hopeful. The videotape has been an important sign for them. We have been constantly in touch with them. They have had psychological help right from the beginning.
KEYES: Harz says her government is working with everyone from the U.S., French, and British governments to the Red Cross in an effort to secure the release of the first Austrian taken hostage in Iraq. The U.S. government has offered little information except to say it's trying to insure the safe return of the hostages, and it has no information on who might be holding them captive. It also says it cannot verify that the tape is authentic.
Lou Fintor is a U.S. Embassy spokesman in Baghdad.
Mr. LOU FINTOR (Spokesman, U.S. Embassy, Baghdad): Here at our embassy, we are working in coordination with Iraqi authority and coalition forces to bring the missing Americans to safety. We strongly condemn the kidnapping and call upon the hostage takers to release these individuals immediately, as we call for the release of all hostages in Iraq.
KEYES: The company that employs the men, Crescent Security Group, issued a statement saying it takes heart that those holding the contractors are releasing information on their well-being. The firm says it hopes this latest video is a gateway to negotiations between the company and the captors, so the men can be released.
Allison Keyes, NPR News, Washington.
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