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American hostage is freed after 10 months

Roy Hallums
Roy Hallums

BAGHDAD, Iraq — The U.S. military, acting on a tip, raided an isolated farmhouse outside the capital Wednesday and rescued an American businessman held hostage for 10 months. The kidnappers, who kept their captive bound and gagged, escaped without a gunbattle.

The rescue came on a day that saw two deadly bombings around the southern city of Basra, fueling fears the bloody insurgency was taking deeper root outside Sunni-dominated territory. A roadside bomb killed four American security agents. And an Interior Ministry official said 16 people were killed and 21 were injured in a car bombing at a restaurant in a central market.

Roy Hallums, 57, was "in good condition and is receiving medical care," a military statement said after U.S. forces freed him and an unidentified Iraqi from the farmhouse 15 miles south of Baghdad.

Lt. Col. Steven A. Boylan, a military spokesman, said the tipster whose information led to Hallums' release was captured just a few hours before the operation.

Hallums called his daughter early Wednesday from Iraq with news of his rescue, and apologized for causing her so much grief and pain.

"He apologized to me for putting me through any hardship," his eldest daughter, Carrie Anne Cooper, 29, said by telephone from her Westminster, Calif., home. "He got to say he was sorry, and I got to say I loved him. We got to say things we never thought we would be able to say."

Hallums, formerly of Newport Beach, Calif., was kidnapped at gunpoint from his office in the Mansour district of Baghdad on Nov. 1, 2004. At the time, he was working for the Saudi Arabian Trading and Construction Co., supplying food to the Iraqi army.

An Iraqi guard and one attacker were killed in the attack. The kidnappers also seized a Filipino, a Nepalese and three Iraqis, but later freed them.

"Considering what he's been through, I understand he's in good condition," said Hallums' ex-wife, Susan Hallums, 53, of Corona, Calif.

The family Web site was topped with a headline: Roy IS FREE!!!!!! 9/7/05.

Susan Hallums and her husband of 30 years divorced a few years ago but remained good friends, she said. They have a second daughter, Amanda Hallums, 26, of Tennessee.

Hallums had been bound and gagged for much of his time in captivity, but doctors gave him a "clean bill of health" after the rescue, Cooper said. Hallums told his family the kidnappers escaped and that he planned to return to the United States within days.

"I've been waiting for this day, hoping for this day for a long time," Cooper said.

More than 200 foreigners have been abducted in Iraq since the war began in March 2003; more than 30 have been killed.

Wednesday's roadside bombing, which killed the four security agents, was noteworthy because attacks against Americans around Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, are rare. The U.S. has only a minimal presence in the area. Also, Shiites, who are the dominant population in the south, have found themselves the political winners as new government structures take shape after the U.S.-led invasion.

In a statement posted on a Web site known as a clearing house of militant claims, al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack.

The bomb flipped the Americans' SUV onto its roof in a ravine alongside a highway near Basra, a major oil center that is under the control of Britain's 8,500-strong contingent.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the four men were employees of Triple Canopy, Inc., a Herndon, Va.-based security company doing contract work for the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, which is responsible for protecting U.S. diplomats at home and abroad. The service also protects foreign diplomats in the United States.

Alan Ptak, senior vice president for the company, identified the four men as: Ronald Hyatt of Calera, Ala.; Robert McCoy of Refugio, Texas; Robert Pole of Miller Place, N.Y.; and Ryan Young of Lewisburg, Tenn.

AP Television News videotape showed the overturned SUV and six British Army Land Rovers, with Iraqi police cars and two civilian ambulances parked nearby. British soldiers loaded a body from the SUV into a military ambulance.

The car bombing later Wednesday at a takeout restaurant in a central Basra market killed 16 and wounded 21, said an Interior Ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.

The felafel restaurant is in the Hayaniyah district market, a Shiite section of the city, Basra police Lt. Col. Karim al-Zaidi said. Two police vehicles and several nearby shops were destroyed in the blast.

Despite a peaceful postwar history in the south, violence has spiked in the past two months with attacks on Britons.

Meanwhile, a U.S. soldier was killed Wednesday in a non-combat accident in central Iraq, the military said.

Also Wednesday, an official of the court that will try Saddam Hussein discounted a claim by Iraq's president that the former leader had admitted wrongdoing in a confession to mass killings and other crimes during his rule.

In an Iraqi television interview aired Tuesday, President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, said Saddam had confessed he ordered the killing of more than 180,000 Kurds in the north of the country in the late 1980s.

"Saddam Hussein is a war criminal and he deserves to be executed 20 times a day for his crimes against humanity," said Talabani, who heads the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party. He claimed Saddam had tried to assassinate him at least 20 times.

The official of the Iraq Special Tribunal, which will put Saddam on trial Oct. 19, said Saddam made a statement last month, but did not confess to criminal activity. The former dictator "boastfully" acknowledged a campaign against the Kurds in 1987-88.

"He said it was legal and justified," according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

Saddam has charged that Iraqi Kurds — part of a disaffected ethnic minority that is spread across northern Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria — were aiding the enemy in Iraq's eight-year war against Iran. Millions died in the conflict, which Saddam started.

Early Thursday, the same Web site that carried the claim of responsibility for killing the four Americans near Basra posted a videotape showing the destruction of a U.S. Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

The video, emblazoned with the logo of al-Qaida in Iraq, claimed the armored vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb in the northern city of Tal Afar, where the U.S. military is conducting operations to rid the city of insurgents.

The military issued no immediate response to the claim. The militant video did not say if there were casualties, although the force of the blast would suggest so. There were several large explosions of ordnance in the tank after the initial blast.