Captive soldier still alive

American's kidnappers negotiating

November 03, 2006|By Borzou Daragahi | Borzou Daragahi,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The American soldier captured by gunmen in the Iraqi capital last week remains alive as family members and others try to negotiate his release, a U.S. military official said yesterday.

U.S. Army reserve Spc. Ahmed Qusai al-Taei, a 41-year-old American of Iraqi descent, was visiting his Iraqi wife and other relatives in central Baghdad on Oct. 23 when kidnappers stormed the home, handcuffed the soldier and forced him into a vehicle at gunpoint.

The kidnappers called his family with his cell phone, and talks continue.

"There is ongoing dialogue being done at different levels at this time," Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq told reporters in Baghdad.

The kidnapping sparked an extensive military crackdown involving 2,000 U.S. and 1,000 Iraqi forces on Shiite Muslim sections of Baghdad where military officials suspect he was being held. U.S.-led forces launched 37 missions to locate al-Taei, which led to the death of one American soldier, the wounding of eight and the capture of 32 suspects.

"We do have credible intelligence that indicates who might be associated with this kidnapping," said Caldwell, declining to disclose further details. "We are vigorously pursuing every lead. At this time, we believe the ones who kidnapped Ahmed currently still have him. We are using all our assets at our disposal to find him."

Al-Taei left Iraq when he was young, spending several years in the Persian Gulf region before moving to the U.S. as a teenager. He lived mostly in the Detroit area, but for some time also resided in Louisiana.

His parents, now residents of Ann Arbor, Mich, "are totally devastated," said Entifadh Qanbar, an Iraqi government official who is al-Taei's uncle.

Though al-Taei spent much of his life abroad, he retained perfect Iraqi-accented Arabic "as if he had never left Iraq," said Qanbar.

He joined the Army Reserves in December 2004, was called to duty in August 2005 and deployed to Iraq in November 2005. Before he was called to duty, he married an Iraqi woman, Caldwell said.

Al-Taei was last spotted by other Americans in Baghdad's heavily-protected Green Zone about 2:30 p.m. on Oct. 23, the first day of the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan. The military listed him as "duty status whereabouts unknown" about 7:30 p.m. on the day he disappeared and began the dragnet through Shiite neighborhoods of the capital.

Each day gunmen abduct dozens of Iraqis. Often the abductees are victims of sectarian or political violence. They are bound, tortured and shot dead, their lifeless bodies dumped into drainage canals and desolate lots.

But at times kidnapping victims are held for ransom by specialized criminal gangs. Negotiations between the victim's family and kidnappers can drag on for weeks.

Qanbar and U.S. officials declined yesterday to specify whether they had received a ransom demand for al-Taei.

"We are in the process now of trying to save the kid, and I'm negotiating with some middle people," said Qanbar. "There has been some progress but not to the point of bringing him back."

Borzou Daragahi writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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