The U.S. military said Tuesday that no U.S. soldiers were known to be missing in Iraq after Iraqi militants claimed in a Web statement to have taken a soldier hostage and threatened to behead him.
“No units have reported anyone missing,” said Staff Sgt. Nick Minecci of the U.S. military's press office in Baghdad.
Doubts were also raised about the authenticity of a photograph posted on the Web site, which the militants claimed depicted the kidnapped soldier. A toy manufacturer said the figure in the photo resembled one of its military action figures, originally produced for sale at U.S. bases in Kuwait.
Evan Kohlman, founder of GlobalTerrorAlert.com and a counterterrorism analyst for NBC News, said some details in the picture appear to be doctored. The Arabic text included misspellings and repetitions, The Associated Press reported.
The photo showed a figure dressed in desert camouflage fatigues, a vest and knee pads, with a gun pointed to its head. All of the items are similar to ones that come in a box with the action figure.
The figure in the photo, who the statement said was named “John Adam,” appeared stiff and expressionless. Liam Cusack, of the toy manufacturer Dragon Models USA Inc., said it bore a striking resemblance to the African-American version of its “Cody” action figure.
“It is our doll. ... To me, it definitely looks like it is,” Cusack told the AP. “Everything the guy is wearing is exactly what comes with our figure.”
He said the figures were ordered by the U.S. military in Kuwait for sale in their bases, “so they would have been in region.”
Other hostages mentioned
A statement posted with the picture suggested the group was holding other soldiers.
“Our mujahedeen heroes of Iraq’s Jihadi Battalion were able to capture American military man John Adam after killing a number of his comrades and capturing the rest,” said the statement, signed by the “Mujahedeen Brigades.”
“God willing, we will behead him if our female and male prisoners are not released from U.S. prisons within the maximum period of 72 hours from the time this statement has been released,” the statement said.
The claim could not be verified. It statement appeared on ansarnet.ws, a Web site often used for posting statements from militants, some of which have proven authentic in the past.
The Mujahedeen Brigades have claimed responsibility for two kidnappings in the past: the abduction in April of three Japanese who were released and of a Brazilian engineer who went missing after an ambush that the Brigades claimed to have carried out along with the Ansar al-Sunnah Army.
More than 180 foreigners have been kidnapped in the past year. At least 10 of them, including three U.S. civilians, remain in the hands of their kidnappers.
The only U.S. soldier known to have been taken hostage was Pfc. Keith M. Maupin, 20, of Batavia, Ohio, who was shown in a video in April being held by militants. Another video aired in June showed what purported to be Maupin’s slaying, but the picture was too unclear to confirm whether it was him, and the military still lists him as missing.
If proven to be a fake, Tuesday’s posting would not be the first hoax associated with kidnappings in Iraq. In August, television stations around the world showed a video in which a 22-year-old San Francisco man faked his own beheading by Iraqi militants.
The man, Benjamin Vanderford, an aspiring politician and video game designer, said he posted the 55-second clip, which showed a knife sawing against his neck, on an online file-sharing network in May. It circulated in cyberspace before crossing over to major media, airing on Arab television.
Vanderford said he committed the hoax “to just make a statement on these type of videos and how easily they can be faked.”