Alleged Kidnapping of Soldier May Be a Hoax

Times Staff Writer

A militant group’s claim that it kidnapped a U.S. soldier in Iraq and planned to behead him appeared to be a hoax Tuesday, as a Southern California toy manufacturer said a photo of the purported captive on an insurgent website looked like one of its collectible dolls.

A group calling itself the Mujahedin Brigades posted a photograph that appeared to show a stern-faced U.S. soldier sitting at gunpoint before a black banner with Arabic script.

The posting called the soldier “John Adam.”

U.S. military authorities said aspects of the photograph had raised doubts. The soldier’s vest, for instance, resembled no such equipment issued by the Army.

Nevertheless, they asked for a full accounting of military personnel in Iraq.

“No units have reported anyone missing,” Staff Sgt. Nick Minecci of the military’s media office in Baghdad told Associated Press.


In the grainy photograph, the figure appears dressed in desert camouflage, his hands behind him, and leans stiffly against a concrete wall. He wears a bulky vest and green kneepads. The barrel of an American automatic rifle is pointed at his head, but no one is pictured holding the weapon.

An executive for City of Industry-based Dragon Models USA Inc. said the soldier looked remarkably like a foot-tall GI Joe-type doll the company manufactures for sale at U.S. bases in Kuwait.

“This looks like our doll,” said Liam Cusack, a company spokesman.

“We don’t want to say 100% that it is our doll, but it does bear a striking resemblance. We’re hoping that this is actually a hoax,” he said.

Cusack said the doll appeared to be the African American version of its “Cody” action figure, one of several thousand sold at bases in Kuwait about three years ago. The highly detailed doll sold for about $40.

Cusack said he was alerted to the photograph Tuesday morning by a retailer who saw it on a news website. Cusack said he had not had contact with the U.S. military about the matter.

“I don’t even know how to contact them,” Cusack said.

If the photo is a hoax, it would be the second such sham that has received widespread attention in the media.

In August, television stations around the world broadcast a video of a 22-year-old San Francisco man who faked his own beheading by militants.

The man, Benjamin Vanderford, said he had circulated the video to show how easy it was to fabricate an execution video.

The Mujahedin Brigades claimed responsibility for two abductions in April. One involved three Japanese, who were later released, and the other a Brazilian engineer. It was unclear Tuesday whether the group was behind the apparently fake photo.

To date, only one U.S. soldier has been confirmed taken hostage by insurgents: Spc. Keith M. Maupin, 20, of Batavia, Ohio. Maupin was shown in a hostage video in April.

A second video in June purported to show his execution, but the military still lists him as missing.