- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 16, 2004

BAGHDAD — Gunmen kidnapped two Americans and a Briton from a house in an upscale Baghdad neighborhood at dawn yesterday, a brazen attack that brought to eight the number of Western civilians held hostage in Iraq.

Early this morning, police pulled out from the Tigris River north of Baghdad the corpse of a tall person thought to be a foreigner, authorities said.

The man had blond hair and Western features, said Capt. Hakim al-Azawi, the head of security at Tikrit’s Teaching Hospital. There were no documents found on the body. The man’s hands were cuffed behind his back and he was shot in the back of the head.

Also yesterday, the U.S. military said it had launched attacks in the western towns of Fallujah and Ramadi against allies of terror mastermind Abu Musab Zarqawi, killing up to 60 insurgents.

The military said the “foreign fighters” were killed near Fallujah, but hospital officials said the city was calm and that they had not received any casualties.

The military launched what it called a “precision strike” against a house in Fallujah and followed it with a strike in a nearby town. The second strike destroyed three buildings purportedly used by Zarqawi’s network.

In the latest kidnapping, 10 assailants in a minivan pulled up on a tree-lined street in the Mansour district — home to many embassies and foreign companies — and snatched the three Westerners from their walled, two-story house, said Col. Adnan Abdul-Rahman, an Interior Ministry official.

The U.S. Embassy identified the Americans as Jack Hensley and Eugene Armstrong but gave no ages or hometowns. Britain’s Foreign Office did not identify the third hostage. All three worked for Gulf Services Co., a Middle East-based construction firm, Col. Abdul-Rahman said.

Hundreds of foreigners have been abducted during the 17-month-old insurgency, many of them executed, though some have been freed. A Jordanian truck driver was released yesterday after his employer bowed to demands by militants, agreeing to stop work in Iraq to save the driver’s life.

As militants tend to target foreigners whose countries have troops or businesses in Iraq, the persistent threat has created a siegelike mentality among the country’s dwindling international community.

Foreign businesses, aid groups and news organizations have hired armed guards in bulletproof vests and built blast walls around their compounds to protect against the daily onslaught of mortars, car bombs and other violence. Security checkpoints have increased in the capital, and many roads have been blocked off, frustrating drivers with gridlock.

No shots were fired in the abduction yesterday, and there was no sign of a struggle — though a car was missing from the house, witnesses and Col. Abdul-Rahman said.

Several foreign embassies, contracting and security companies, and many prominent Iraqi politicians are based in the Mansour neighborhood, which normally teems with security guards.

It was not clear whether the three kidnapped persons were guards themselves or involved in reconstruction projects. A police official said it appeared the three were outside the house when they were abducted.

Besides the two Americans and one Briton, Westerners held hostage in Iraq include two Italian aid workers, two French reporters and an Iraqi-American businessman.

In other developments yesterday, a U.S. Humvee hit a roadside bomb south of Fallujah, the military said.

The latest violence came a day after villagers found three decapitated bodies in the town of Dijiel, 25 miles north of Baghdad.

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