American shown on video after kidnapping

Thursday, April 14, 2005

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- An Indiana man, scared and clutching his passport to his chest, was shown at gunpoint on a videotape aired by Al-Jazeera television Wednesday, two days after he was kidnapped from a water treatment plant near Baghdad. The station said he pleaded for his life and urged U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq.

The United States said it would maintain its policy of not negotiating with kidnappers.

In LaPorte, Ind., a yellow ribbon was tied around a tree outside Jeffrey Ake's one-story brick house, and an American flag fluttered on a pole from the home. The U.S. Embassy said the man on the video appeared to be Ake, a contract worker who was kidnapped around noon Monday.

The video came on a day of bloody attacks, as insurgents blew up a fuel tanker in Baghdad, killed 12 policemen in Kirkuk, and drove a car carrying a bomb into a U.S. convoy, killing five Iraqis and wounding four U.S. contract workers on the capital's infamous airport road.

Ake -- the 47-year-old president and CEO of Equipment Express, a company that manufacturers bottled water equipment -- is the latest of more than 200 foreigners seized in Iraq in the past year.

The Al-Jazeera tape showed a man sitting behind a desk with at least three assailants -- two hooded and one off-camera -- pointing assault rifles at him. Ake, wearing an open-collar shirt with rolled-up shirt sleeves, was sitting or kneeling behind a wooden desk and holding what appeared to be a photo and a passport.

The station didn't air audio of the video, but said the man asked the U.S. government to begin talks with the Iraqi resistance and save his life. No group claimed responsibility, and there was no way to authenticate the video. Al-Jazeera didn't say how it obtained the tape.

President Bush's press secretary, Scott McClellan, said there would be no negotiating with the kidnappers.

"Any time there is a hostage -- an American hostage -- it is a high priority for the United States," he said. "Our position is well known when it comes to negotiating. Obviously this is a sensitive matter."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said U.S. officials were thoroughly engaged with Iraqi officials and others in trying to secure the hostage's release.

"Obviously, the United States continues to hold to a policy that we do not negotiate with terrorists," Rice told reporters after meeting Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini. "It only encourages them."

Al-Qaida in Iraq said in an Internet statement that it carried out Wednesday's deadly car bombing, which the military said damaged two sport utility vehicles and five civilian cars. The explosion left charred and burning rubble strewn across the highway.

The car bomb was among four explosions in central Baghdad early Wednesday, the military said. The second was a car bombing that caused no damage, and the third was a "secondary explosion" nearby, the military said.

The military gave no information on the fourth explosion, but twin blasts set a fuel tanker ablaze as it made its way through eastern Baghdad. Clouds of black smoke billowed from the site.

Near the northern city of Kirkuk, 12 policemen who had gathered to help dismantle an apparent decoy bomb were killed by another explosion Wednesday, police said. Three others were wounded.

Police Brig. Sarhat Qadir said the explosion took place 10 miles northwest of Kirkuk as police were trying to cordon off the area. He said officials believed the bomb being dismantled was a decoy to draw in more police before the second bomb exploded.

The violence came as Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko signed a decree ordering his country's troops to leave Iraq by year's end, finalizing a decision that will pull out the fourth-largest non-U.S. contingent here. The withdrawal was one of the new president's campaign promises.

The Bush administration also moved Wednesday to freeze the finances of a Jordanian it says has provided financial support to al-Zarqawi. The U.S. government contends that Bilal Mansur al-Hiyari became acquainted with al-Zarqawi in Afghanistan in 1989.

And in Iraq, the U.S. military announced the April 6 arrest of Walid Jassim Muhammad Jurmat, an alleged member of the Saraya Al Jihad group, which has ties to al-Zarqawi. In a statement, the military said he was wanted for his connection to suicide car bombs, weapons and ammunition trafficking, as well as the organization of insurgent supply routes in and out of Ramadi.

Following up on clashes in the remote town of Qaim, on Iraq's border with Syria, the U.S. military said it had killed some 30 insurgents since Monday. The clashes included three car bombs -- one using a fire truck -- that tried unsuccessfully to ram into a Marine outpost in the city.

Residents have reported several gunbattles and explosions, and hospital officials said they received at least nine bodies -- believed to be civilians.

No U.S. soldiers were killed in the Qaim battle, but a soldier died Tuesday during clashes in Ramadi, the military said.

Rice's top deputy, Robert Zoellick, made a surprise visit Wednesday to meet with Iraq's new leaders and inspect reconstruction efforts in Fallujah, a former insurgent stronghold.

After meeting with Zoellick, designated Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said there were no negotiations with militant groups -- despite calls by interim President Jalal Talabani to broker peace with the homegrown insurgents.

"We have no meetings or talks with those who are carrying weapons," al-Jaafari said.

Associated Press reporter Liz Sidoti in Fallujah contributed to this report.

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