The State Department said Thursday that a blindfolded man who was shown pleading for help on a videotape broadcast by an Arab television network was a U.S. citizen who had been kidnapped in Iraq.
Richard Boucher, a spokesman for the State Department, would provide no other details about the man, who he said had been identified by relatives who contacted the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan.
MSNBC.com first reported Thursday morning that the man was Aban Elias, 42, of Denver. He was first identified when Kazwan Elias, also of Denver, told MSNBC.com that the man in the tape was his brother, who he said had been working in Iraq since last year.
Aban Elias, blindfolded and posed against a stone wall, was shown pleading for help on a videotape broadcast earlier in the day by Al Arabiya, a television station based in the United Arab Emirates.
A transcript provided by Al Arabiya quoted him as saying in English: “My name is Aban Elias from Denver, Colorado. I am a civil engineer working in Baghdad ... and we are working with the Pentagon. ... I was kidnapped, and I call upon Muslim organizations to interfere to release me.”
Family shocked by photo
Badly shocked by the photo, Kazwan Elias said he could not confirm that his brother had been working for the Defense Department in Iraq and was unable to provide any other information. His mother could be heard sobbing in the background during the brief telephone call.
Defense officials told NBC News that Elias was “not on the payroll of either the Department of Defense or the Coalition Provisional Authority.” One of the officials speculated that he could be employed by a private contractor.
Kazwan Elias told The Associated Press that his brother, who he said was a naturalized U.S. citizen, had been running a gravel operation near Fallujah to help rebuild roads. Their mother last heard from his brother on Sunday, a day before he is believed to have been kidnapped, he said.
“He was just trying to do something to help rebuild some roads and get some work done,” Kazwan Elias said. “He wanted to help his country.”
“This is terrible news. I just don’t understand what’s going on,” he added.
Al Arabiya initially showed a brief segment of the tape. An editor at the station said the entire tape was 30 to 40 seconds long.
Received from previously unknown group
Al Arabiya said it received the tape Thursday from a previously unknown group calling itself the Islamic Rage Squadrons, which claimed that Elias was kidnapped Monday. It did not say how or where it got the tape.
The network said a copy of Elias’ U.S. passport showed that he had been born in Iraq. Al Arabiya said the kidnappers had not made any demands.
Dozens of Westerners have been kidnapped in Iraq recently. Some have been released or have escaped, while others have been killed.
At least one other American is known to be held hostage in Iraq, Army Pfc. Keith “Matt” Maupin of Batavia, Ohio, who was abducted April 9 after his convoy was attacked west of Baghdad.
Another American who was kidnapped in the same attack, Thomas Hamill, a civilian contract worker from Macon, Miss., escaped Sunday and was rescued by U.S. forces.
The bodies of four other Americans who were in the convoy have been found. Maupin and another member remain missing.