BAGHDAD, Iraq – A kidnapped American subcontractor was identified Wednesday after he was shown on Arab satellite television pleading for his life, on a day when bomb blasts killed 16 Iraqis.
Al-Jazeera news channel broadcast a videotape of a man that U.S. officials confirmed was Jeffrey Ake, 47, of La Porte, Ind., sitting between three armed and masked men. Ake, chief executive of a midsized water-bottling-machinery manufacturer, was kidnapped Tuesday while visiting a factory in northern Baghdad, said a source familiar with the incident.
Ake held up what appeared to be a picture of his family and, according to the television announcer, asked U.S. officials to save his life by withdrawing troops from Iraq.
Ake’s entreaty came on a day when explosions rocked the cities of Kirkuk and Baghdad.
Iraqis guarding a Kirkuk oil pipeline were attempting to defuse a bomb when an explosion killed at least 11 members of the Facilities Protection Service. Dr. Mohammed Bakir of Kirkuk General Hospital reported that eight others were injured in the blast.
“After we were sure that we had defused the bomb that was planted under the pipe in the Bajawan district, most of the FPS members gathered to celebrate,” said a guard who was injured in the blast. “Some of us even started to dance. But then a mistake occurred when our explosive expert did not know what cord to cut. That’s when the bomb exploded.”
In Baghdad, a suicide attacker killed five Iraqis and injured four U.S. contract workers when he drove his car into a U.S. convoy traveling down the city’s airport road, perhaps Baghdad’s most dangerous thoroughfare. Another bomb in eastern Baghdad destroyed a U.S. fuel tanker truck, sending a plume of smoke into the sky. No one died in that assault, said fire rescuer Hussein Jadooh.
The Department of Defense announced that a U.S. soldier was killed Tuesday during a gun battle in the western city of Ramadi. The soldier’s name was withheld pending notification of the family.
Wednesday’s violence followed optimistic statements from Iraqi security officials earlier in the day. In the morning, the Iraqi government touted its success against insurgents’ bombs, saying Iraqi security forces have defused 74 percent of the explosive devices targeting them. The government did not make clear how that figure was calculated.
Also, Iraqi Army Gen. Faisal Qassum Qussai appeared on an Iraqi news broadcast promising to solve Baghdad’s security situation within a month.
The day’s violence overshadowed the second visit to Iraq by a top U.S. bureaucrat in two days. Following on the heels of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick on Wednesday met with top political leaders and visited Fallujah, the site of a U.S.-led military offensive last fall. Large swaths of Fallujah were leveled during fighting, and U.S. officials say reconstruction there is a priority for the occupation.
New details emerged Wednesday about the kidnapping of Ake a day earlier.
The businessman was a subcontractor for a Swiss water-purification company and had been visiting a bottling plant in a northern Baghdad suburb, according to a source who requested anonymity.
“He was on-site Monday and two cars pull up, eight hooded men carrying heavy rifles emerged from the car, quickly overwhelmed his security – which was less than robust – found him, grabbed him … threw him in the car and sped off,” said the source.
The video shows three of the kidnappers standing over Ake, seated behind a desk. He is holding up what appears to be his passport in his left hand and a picture of his family in his right. There are two soda cans on the desk and one of the kidnappers is wearing a bullet strap across his neck.
The group is called the Iraqi National Resistance, according to the source.
A U.S. official said, “We just don’t know what the motive is, whether it is political or monetary.”
Ake, married and a father of four, started Equipment Express in his garage. The privately held business now is based in Rolling Prairie, Ind. It employs 30 people and pulls in annual revenues of more than $100 million.
On Wednesday, many residents in La Porte, a town of about 22,000 in the northwestern corner of Indiana, were stunned by the news. A person who answered the family’s phone said only that the Akes were “praying.”
City officials said the community was planning to hold a candlelight vigil later in the week.
“People are walking around here in a daze,” said Michael Seitz, president of the Greater La Porte Chamber of Commerce. “Jeff and his family have been in this community all their lives. Everyone is hoping and praying he will come home.”