- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2006

11:55 a.m.

BAGHDAD (AP) — An umbrella group linked to al Qaeda in Iraq claimed today that it had kidnapped two American soldiers reported missing south of Baghdad, where 8,000 Iraqi and U.S. troops were conducting a massive search.

The group, called the Mujahedeen Shura Council, also claimed it had kidnapped four Russian diplomats and killed a fifth in Baghdad on June 3.

The message, which could not be authenticated, appeared on an Islamic Web site known for publishing messages from insurgent groups in Iraq. U.S. officials have said they were trying to confirm whether the two soldiers, who disappeared Friday evening following an insurgent attack that also killed a U.S. soldier, were kidnapped.

During the search for the missing Americans, U.S. spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell also said the military killed three suspected insurgents and detained 34 others in fighting that wounded seven U.S. servicemen.

The Web posting said: “Your brothers in the military wing of the Mujahedeen Shura Council kidnapped the two American soldiers near Youssifiya.” It did not identify the soldiers.

The Defense Department identified the missing men as Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston, and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker, 25, of Madras, Ore., and the dead soldier as Spc. David J. Babineau, 25, of Springfield, Mass. They were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky.

Gunmen kidnapped the four Russian diplomats near their embassy in Baghdad’s Mansour district after firing on their car and killing an embassy employee.

“God has enabled the lions of monotheism to arrest four Russian diplomats in Iraq and kill the fifth,” said a statement from the group on the same Web site.

It condemned Russian actions in Chechnya and criticized its presence in Baghdad, saying: “The Russian government sends its diplomats to Iraq to support the crusaders’ project, led by America, and to provide international backing and legitimacy to the exhausted Iraqi government.”

The Mujahedeen Shura Council is a grouping of several insurgent forces, including al Qaeda in Iraq. Former insurgent leader Abu Musab Zarqawi helped create the council in January, apparently to give an Iraqi face to his movement, made up mainly of foreign fighters.

In the posting, the council taunted U.S. forces for failing to find the Americans.

“The events reconfirm the weakness of the alleged American intelligence and its going astray in Iraq,” the statement said.

“The American military has launched a campaign of raids using armor and equipment, in the region around the incident, but the army of ‘the strongest nation in the world’ retreated in defeat and disgrace,” it said.

Fighter jets, helicopters, unmanned drones, boats and dive teams are being used to search for the two men, Gen. Caldwell said. He did not comment on whether they had been seized by insurgents, saying only that they were listed as “duty status and whereabouts unknown.”

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