BAGHDAD, Iraq, (AP) -Four Americans and an Austrian abducted in November in southern Iraq spoke briefly and appeared uninjured in a video believed to have been recorded nearly two weeks ago and delivered Wednesday to The Associated Press.
The men — security contractors for the Crescent Security Group based in Kuwait — appeared separately on the edited video. Three of them said they were being treated well. They were kidnapped Nov. 16 when suspected militiamen in Iraqi police uniforms ambushed a convoy of trucks being escorted by Crescent Security on a highway near the southern border city of Safwan.
“My name is John R. Young,” one captive in a blue and white sweat suit said in the video. “I’m 44 years old. I’m from Kansas City, Missouri. The date is 21 December, 2006. I’m well, my friends are well, we’ve been treated well.”
Another man identified himself as Jon Cote of Buffalo, N.Y. Fidgeting and appearing uncomfortable, he said: “I can’t be released until the prisoners from the American jails and the British jails are released.”
The captives were dressed in civilian clothes and spoke in a flat, impassive tone. Several had their hands folded in their laps.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Lou Fintor said the State Department was in touch with the families of the American captives, and that the embassy was working with U.S.-led forces and the Iraqi government in an effort to ensure their safe return.
“We are aware of press reports of videotapes of American hostages held since Nov. 16, but have no independent confirmation of the existence or veracity of any videos,” Fintor said. “We have no information on who may be holding these American citizens.”
The kidnappers were not seen or heard in the video, which lasted one minute and 40 seconds and was digitally stamped with the dates Dec. 21 and Dec. 22, 2006. It began with an image of a Quran and a map of Iraq over a green background, changing to a title that read, “The National Islamic Resistance in Iraq. The Furkan Brigades. The captivity operation was done in the Safwan district in Basra.”
Safwan is a Sunni Arab city in a predominantly Shiite area. It was unclear whether the kidnappers were holding the contractors to put political pressure on American-led occupation forces and the U.S.-backed Iraqi government, or were seeking a ransom. U.S.-led forces have conducted raids in an effort to rescue the men.
Four of the captives were seen sitting alone and cross-legged on a carpet, with a black sheet hanging behind them. The video only showed the upper body of the fifth man, who identified himself as Paul Johnson Reuben of Buffalo, Minn., which is near Minneapolis. Reuben said the date is Dec. 22, 2006, and that he wanted his family to know he was being treated well.
Another man with a beard and a mustache identified himself as Bert Nussbaumer, an Austrian citizen working for Crescent Security.
Another captive identified himself as Josh Munns, 23, of Redding, Calif.
“I joined the Marine Corps in 2001, and I got out in 2005,” Munns says. “After I got out of the Marine Corps, I went to work in the construction business, building swimming pools. After that, in July of 2006, I started working for Crescent Security out of Kuwait, and I don’t know how long I’ve been here doing this, but today is December 21, 2006.”
Another video of the captives surfaced last week and was reported by McClatchy Newspapers. That video was believed to have been recorded two weeks after the men were kidnapped.
Reuben’s mother, Johnnie, was happy to hear her son apparently recorded another video on Dec. 22. “That’s recent, that’s more recent. That makes me more hopeful,” she said Wednesday.
She said her faith in God has helped to get her through the difficult last few weeks since her son was reported missing.
“I pray a lot, I read the Bible and talk to God,” Reuben said. “I believe Paul is alive. He may be looking peaked and he may be under the weather, but then I remember his internal fortitude, and his own belief in God.”
Reuben’s sister-in-law, Jennifer Reuben of New Richmond, Wis., said: “I was just glad to see him. That’s all I can say.”
In Vienna, Austria’s Foreign Ministry said it was trying to get a copy of the video to confirm its authenticity, spokeswoman Astrid Harz said.
Harz said the parents of Nussbaumer, 25, had been informed about the existence of the video and its contents.
Last week, an audiotape containing a statement from Nussbaumer appeared to be authentic, the Foreign Ministry said after an expert analysis.