BAGHDAD — Shiite militants kidnapped an Iraqi-American contractor after luring him into central Baghdad with promises of visiting distant relatives, an Iraqi defense official said Saturday, after a video apparently showing the man surfaced online.
The U.S. Department of Defense said Friday that American contractor Issa T. Salomi, 60, went missing Jan. 23 in Baghdad and that search and recovery efforts were under way, but it released no other details. The U.S. military in Baghdad on Saturday confirmed Salomi is missing but would not provide additional information.
In the video, the man — who did not identify himself — says his abductors from the League of the Righteous are demanding the release of militants and the prosecution of Blackwater security contractors accused of killing 17 Iraqis in 2007 in Baghdad.
"The second demand is to bring the proper justice and the proper punishment to those members of Blackwater company that have committed unjustifiable crimes against innocent Iraqi civilians," the man said. "And to bring justice by proper compensation to the families that have been involved in great suffering because of this incident."
Blackwater security contractors were protecting U.S. diplomats when the guards opened fire in Nisoor Square, a crowded Baghdad intersection, on Sept. 16, 2007. Seventeen people were killed, including women and children, in a shooting that inflamed anti-American sentiment in Iraq.
There was no way to verify the authenticity of the video, but a high-ranking Iraqi defense official told The Associated Press that Salomi was the man in the video and that he was abducted by the militant group in the central Baghdad district of Karradah. The official said Salomi is of Iraqi origin and that his abductors lured him to Karradah under the pretense of visiting distant relatives.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
"We obviously hope for his safe return," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said. "We aren't certain of the circumstances under which he disappeared."
The Department of Defense said the missing contractor is from El Cajon, California.
Salomi's family issued a statement, released through the FBI in San Diego, saying they were hoping for his safe return. The statement did not say whether Salomi was believed abducted.
"We are confident that everything is being done by the most capable people here and abroad to bring Issa home safely, and we all are anxiously awaiting his safe return," the statement said.
The man in the video is seated in a chair and wearing what looks like a U.S. military uniform. Behind him is the black banner of the militant group, also known by its Arabic name, Asaib Ahl al-Haq.
He says his captors were also demanding the immediate withdrawal of the U.S. military from Iraq.
The militant group's Web site claimed the man in the video is an American officer.
The same group was believed to be behind the kidnapping of British computer consultant Peter Moore in May 2007 along with his four British bodyguards. Moore was handed over to Iraqi authorities in late December. Three of the bodyguards were killed and the fourth is believed dead.
The British government has said no deals were struck for Moore's release, though it coincided with the transfer of the head of the militant group from U.S. to Iraqi custody.
Qais al-Khazali, along with his brother, were accused of organizing an attack on a local government headquarters in the city of Karbala that killed five U.S. soldiers on Jan. 20, 2007.
Associated Press Writers Bushra Juhi and Hamid Ahmed in Baghdad and Anne Flaherty, traveling with the U.S. defense secretary in Europe, contributed to this report.