A U.S. civilian contractor and two Iraqi interpreters were kidnapped Friday near the southern city of Basra, Iraqi police officials said.
Police Col. Kareem Azaidi in Basra said witnesses saw gunmen in a civilian car, a pickup and two police vehicles cut off the captives’ car and take them hostage.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Lou Fintor declined to identify the victims. “We’re aware of reports that an American citizen was kidnapped,” he said. “And we’re looking into them.”
The fate of the American contractor was unknown, but the two Iraqis were later found dead, the Associated Press reported.
The abductions came a day after a videotape emerged showing four kidnapped Americans and an Austrian.
The five men in the video said they were contractors for Crescent Security Group, a Kuwait-based firm, abducted near Basra in November. The men identified themselves as John R. Young, 44, of Kansas City, Mo.; Jon Cote of Buffalo, N.Y.; Josh Munns, 23, of Redding, Calif.; Paul Johnson Reuben of Buffalo, Minn.; and Bert Nussbaumer of Austria.
“I’m well; my friends are well. We’ve been treated well,” Young said. Reuben said the video was recorded Dec. 22.
Meanwhile, in the first Friday prayers since Saddam Hussein was hanged, Shiite Muslim clerics called the death of the former Iraqi president -- whose regime favored minority Sunnis -- a “breakthrough” and condemned those who opposed the recording of the execution.
“The execution of Saddam is a turning point not only in the history of the Iraqi people but in the whole area,” Shiite cleric Sadruddin Qubanchi said in the holy city of Najaf. “We foresee a new breakthrough in the region, and this explains the anger of some Arab countries.... Libya, Algeria and Yemen -- all these governments are tyrannical too.”
Sunni Arabs throughout the Middle East complained about the way Hussein was executed. A cellphone camera recorded supporters of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr taunting and jeering Hussein as he stood on the gallows.
Qubanchi accused the critics of hypocrisy. “When Saudi Arabia shot dead in the streets 400 Iranian Shiite pilgrims after they held a demonstration, no one protested,” he said. “But today those who pretend to grieve over Saddam are really grieving only because they fear the wind of change will move people in their countries.”
At Baghdad’s Bratha Mosque, Sheik Jalaluddin Saghir, a Shiite cleric and parliament member, said that whatever pain Hussein experienced paled in comparison to the atrocities he committed.
“Executing Saddam on the first day of Eid made the Baathists and Sunnis angry,” Saghir said, referring to the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha. “That is all pretense. Saddam used to execute leaders and prominent figures anytime he liked -- even during Eid.”
Sheik Harith Obeidi, a prominent Sunni cleric and parliament member, avoided discussing Hussein’s execution and focused instead on religious matters.
Many sermons emphasized the failure of the government to provide security and services.
At least 18 bodies were discovered Friday in Baghdad, some with gunshots to the head and wounds suggesting torture.
Mortar fire killed at least 10 other Iraqis in the capital, and at least five people, including a police officer, were shot to death.
Police officials said 30 gunmen drove 18 Shiite families out of their west Baghdad homes.
Special correspondents in Baghdad, Basra, Najaf, Hillah and Kirkuk contributed to this report.