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Al-Jazeera shows U.S. hostage in Iraq

Al-Jazeera television broadcast a video Wednesday showing an American who had been kidnapped two days before in Baghdad.
Al-Jazeera broadcast a video Wednesday showing an American, identified by the U.S. Embassy as Jeffrey Ake, a contractor taken hostage in Baghdad.
Al-Jazeera broadcast a video Wednesday showing an American, identified by the U.S. Embassy as Jeffrey Ake, a contractor taken hostage in Baghdad.MSNBC TV
/ Source: The Associated Press

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.

On Thursday, insurgents targeted a U.S. military installation in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit with a car bomb that injured at least five civilians, hospital and U.S. officials said.

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.”

‘It only encourages them’
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.”

In Indiana, LaPorte Police Chief David Gariepy met with Ake’s family and called it “a terrible situation.”

“We have to keep them in our thoughts and pray for his safe return,” Gariepy said. “It devastates all of us as Americans when someone from our country is involved in something like this.”

Gariepy asked for those in the community about 25 miles west of South Bend to “hope and pray and wait.”

**RETRANSMITTING TO CORRECT LOCATION IN HEADER INFO** Police officers walk down the driveway of the home of Jeffrey Ake Wednesday, April 13, 2005, in La Port, Ind., after Embassy officials in Baghdad said that Ake, an Indiana contractor was kidnapped earlier this week while working on a water treatment plant outside of Baghdad. Ake, 47, is president and CEO of Equipment Express, whose products include machines that fill water bottles. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)M. Spencer Green / AP

Ake’s company had been working as part of the effort to rebuild Iraq. In 2003, Equipment Express built a machine that filled containers with cooking oil to be used by Iraqis. The company also built a system to provide water bottles to be sold in Baghdad.

Ake is one of at least 14 Americans who have been kidnapped or have gone missing in the past year in Iraq. At least three have been killed. Last April, Nicholas Berg, a 26-year-old businessman from West Chester, Pa., was the first to be kidnapped. He was beheaded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaida in Iraq group.

One of the Americans still being held was kidnapped last month along with three Romanian journalists. The Romanian government said Wednesday it was in direct contact with their abductors, and that the four were being treated well.

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.

“A member of our martyrdom seekers’ brigade mingled in an American military convoy at the airport road and exploded himself, destroying the infidels,” said the statement, which could not be independently verified.

The car bomb was among four explosions in central Baghdad early Wednesday, the military said. The second was a car bombing that didn’t cause any 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.

Twelve police officers die
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.