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Iraqi police: Criminal gang kidnapped security workers

Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq — British soldiers backed by U.S. military helicopters battled insurgents near the Kuwaiti border Friday, close to where a private security team of four Americans, including a former Minneapolis police officer, and an Austrian were kidnapped.

A top police official said a criminal gang had snatched the men and demanded ransom.

A State Department official informed the family of Paul Reuben, 39, of suburban Minneapolis was working as a security contractor in Iraq.

He was among those captured, his brother, Patrick Reuben, told the Star Tribune newspaper and KSTP-TV in St. Paul.

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Gunmen wearing police uniforms abducted the security team near Safwan, a largely Sunni Arab city of 200,000 people in southern Iraq. The attack took place shortly after the Westerners had crossed the Kuwaiti border with a large convoy of supply trucks.

The convoy was traveling on the Iraq Military Road, which is infrequently used by civilian vehicles. Sunni insurgents attack supply convoys on a daily basis, not only on the roads from Kuwait but also from Turkey in the north and Jordan in the west.

Basra police Maj. Gen. Ali al-Moussawi refused to give details of the ransom demand late Friday after a series of confused and apparently incorrect reports that variously claimed the Austrian had been found dead and one of the Americans was gravely wounded. Another discounted report came from the Basra governor, who had said two Americans were freed and one hostage killed.

Al-Moussawi said police believed the five employees of the Crescent Security Co. were being held in the Safwan region along with trucks from the convoy.

The confusion in reports from Iraqi officials apparently grew out of their having been unaware initially of a fresh incident on Friday involving a British security team that had been stopped by Iraqi customs police on the same road where the Crescent Security team was abducted.

Al-Moussawi said that as police checked the papers of the British security men in the lead vehicle, a car drove jy at high speed and opened fire, killing one Briton and wounding a second in the car. British officials in Basra confirmed an incident involving security men but would provide no details.

The police major general speculated that Basra Gov. Mohammed al-Waili was not aware of that incident and had assumed the dead and wounded were from the group of five kidnapped the day before.

British soldiers and U.S. military helicopters fought with gunmen in the area where the Crescent Security Group convoy was hijacked, and coalition forces searched for the hostages, according to an official for Crescent Security in Kuwait. He would speak only on condition of anonymity.

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British military spokesman Capt. Tane Dunlop said the British and U.S. assault targeted gunmen who had been attacking coalition forces in the past few days. He said the coalition force had been attacked by about 10 gunmen from farm buildings.

The British and U.S. forces returned fire, killing at least two of the gunmen, Dunlop said in a telephone interview from Basra.

Neither Crescent Security nor the U.S. government has identified the missing Americans.

The attack took place in Dhi Qar Province, where Italy formally handed over security responsibility to Iraqi forces in late September.

At least 52 Iraqi deaths were reported nationwide Friday. Fifteen were killed by gun or mortar fire and 37 bodies were found dumped with multiple gunshot wounds, many showing signs of torture.

The U.S. military also reported the death of one

soldier who was killed Thursday in Diyala Province, northeast of Baghdad.

As violence in Iraq continued to spiral out of control, a crisis was brewing for Iraq’s Shiite-led government.

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