Thursday, March 13, 2008

News from Iraq

Severed fingers of 5 hostages held in Iraq delivered to U.S.

By Hannah Allam

BAGHDAD — U.S. authorities in Baghdad have received five severed fingers belonging to four Americans and an Austrian who were taken hostage more than a year ago in Iraq, officials here said today.

The FBI is investigating the grisly development, and the families of the five kidnapped contractors have been notified, American officials said on condition of anonymity because only Washington officials are permitted to publicly discuss the matter.

Authorities have confirmed that the fingers belonged to hostages Jonathan Cote, of Gainesville, Fla., Joshua Munns, of Redding, Calif., Paul Reuben, of Buffalo, Minn., Bert Nussbaumer of Vienna, Austria, and Ronald J. Withrow, of Lubbock, Texas.

The first four men were security contractors with Kuwait-based Crescent Security and were captured in a brazen ambush of their 43-truck supply convoy in the southern Iraqi town of Safwan, near the Kuwaiti border, on Nov. 16, 2006.

There was no word today on a fifth contractor who was seized with them, John Young, of Kansas City. Contrary to Austrian news reports, none of the fingers belonged to him, authorities said.

The Crescent contractors appeared in two hostage videos released in December 2006 and January 2007 in which they pleaded for the United States to withdraw troops from Iraq and to free all Iraqi prisoners. In the videos, they appeared in good condition and stated that they were being treated well.

Withrow, a computer specialist who worked for JPI Worldwide, was kidnapped separately at a phony checkpoint near the southern Iraqi city of Basra on Jan. 5, 2007. The bodies of his Iraqi translator and driver were discovered the next day, but there had been no news of Withrow until today’s development. JPI is a Las Vegas-based company that provides Internet and technoological support in remote or war-torn areas around the globe, according to the company’s Web site.

U.S. officials in Baghdad would not say how or where the severed fingers were received, citing the ongoing investigation.

Original article posted here.

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