BAGHDAD, Iraq—An Arab satellite news network early Saturday aired a videotape of an American soldier being held prisoner in Iraq after his fuel convoy was ambushed on the road to the city of Fallujah.
The videotape of U.S. Army Pfc. Keith Maupin, 20, of Batavia, Ohio, was the first known confirmation that a U.S. soldier taken prisoner by anti-American insurgents was still alive, at least when the crude homemade video was recorded. It gave no date.
"My name is Keith Matthew Maupin. I am a soldier from the 1st Division," says a scared-looking young soldier, sitting on the floor, still in his Army uniform, with several days' growth of beard. A group of masked gunmen stands behind him, some with rifles.
The videotape was the latest escalation in a simmering Iraq hostage crisis that started last week with the capture of three Japanese civilians, who've since been set free. It was broadcast a week after Maupin was captured, and two days after unidentified captors executed an Italian hostage who was in Iraq working as a security guard with an American defense contractor.
In the video, delivered to al Jazeera on Friday, an unidentified Iraqi group demands the release of unspecified Iraqi prisoners in exchange for the young private's freedom and says he's in good health. There was no threat against the soldier's life.
The video inspired hope in Maupin's hometown, where drivers honked their horns as they passed his mother's house and called a candlelight vigil outside the courthouse hours after the video was shown.
"At least they're showing he is—or was—alive when this film was shot," said Lucille Bauer, 65, who lives down the same street. "Everybody's praying for him," Bauer said in a telephone interview. "I hope to God he makes it home."
In Florida, an officer at the U.S. Central Command, which handles operations in the Middle East, said the Doha, Qatar-based news agency had given the U.S. Embassy there copies of the video before airing it. The American military was analyzing the videotape for clues.
"There's stuff on there that we need to analyze in order to try to identify who the captors are, the group, what their demands are, etc.," said Marine Capt. Bruce Frame, a spokesman at Centcom, which was handling the case. "Our goal is to get a safe return on this young American."
Maupin and Sgt. Elmer Krause, 40, of Greensboro, N.C., disappeared from their burning convoy after it was attacked near the Baghdad suburb of Abu Ghraib, between that city and Fallujah, on April 9—the first anniversary of Baghdad's fall.
They were among an estimated 40 or more foreigners taken prisoner in Iraq in a week of kidnappings and releases. They're reservists with the 724th Transportation Co., out of Bartonville, Ill., Frame said.
Several previously unknown resistance groups, with names such as the Resistance Brigades and Ansar al Sunni, have claimed responsibility for some kidnappings. Maupin's captors don't identify their group, but say on the tape that they're treating the soldier "according to the Islamic way of treating prisoners of war."
The two transportation troopers are the first known American soldiers taken prisoner since President Bush declared an end to major combat in Iraq nearly a year ago. The Pentagon had described their cases as "duty status whereabouts unknown," a Defense Department term for soldiers who've recently disappeared, less familiar than the Vietnam War-era expression "missing in action."
Military commanders see the abductions as a new tactic to try to uproot the occupation after a year of suicide bombings, drive-by shootings and grenade attacks, which initially targeted U.S.-led coalition forces and their proxy Iraqi police, then spread to so-called "soft targets," such as civilian contractors, Iraqi employees of the coalition and journalists.
Most of the foreign hostages have been released. But reports in Baghdad on Friday said two more foreigners had been kidnapped near the port city of Basra: a Danish contractor working on a sewage project and a man from the United Arab Emirates who was abducted from his hotel by assailants dressed in police uniforms.
In other developments, coalition envoys met with leaders from Fallujah in hopes of averting a full-scale U.S. Marine attack on insurgents who are holed up in the flashpoint city west of Baghdad.
At the Marine base near Fallujah, the 11 Fallujah leaders met with senior coalition officials to seek a peaceful end to the violent standoff that's gripped the embattled city. They were the first direct talks between representatives of the city and Americans.
Dr. Hashen al Hassani, the deputy chief of the Iraqi Islamic Party, said he thought the Fallujah leaders could convince the insurgents to stop fighting the Marines.
"There is some kind of control," al Hassani said. "They are some of the prominent people in the city. We expect that they have some influence."
Marine officers in Fallujah have said Marines are fighting an independent army that answers to no central authority.
"Negotiations might be a misnomer," said Marine Maj. T.V. Johnson, a spokesman for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. "We're giving the diplomatic process a chance."
Although an offensive halt is in effect, Marines often have fought fiercely to rout snipers and attackers. Artillery, airstrikes and tanks have been used to strike at insurgent strongholds.
Through large speakers on Humvees, insurgents have been insulted and challenged, and treated to hard rock music by Metallica and AC/DC.
Venturing from their fortifications, Marines regularly have discovered large weapons caches, including one report of American-made rockets designed to shoot down helicopters.
Near Kufa, there was a report of fighting between coalition troops and the Shiite Muslim militia loyal to cleric Muqtada al Sadr. American soldiers massing outside the nearby Shiite holy city of Najaf weren't involved, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said.
In Baghdad, coalition officials reported no new deaths of American soldiers, but warned that insurgent highway attacks are causing problems for supply lines, which could hurt Iraqis and slow the reconstruction effort.
"There's what we believe to be a concerted effort on the part of the enemy to try to interfere with our lines of communication, our main supply routes," Kimmitt said.
"If this is sustained for a long period ... " he said, "fewer supplies are going to be able to get to the people of Baghdad and the surrounding region. Prices will probably go up. The reconstruction projects, which are so critical to the onward development of this country, will be slowed down. Those contractors will be intimidated to come in."
Although Kimmitt said U.S. military supplies would be unimpeded because coalition aircraft could supply them, his comments hinted at a coming crisis for Iraqis.
(Moran reports for The Philadelphia Inquirer, Rosenberg for The Miami Herald, Peterson for The (Biloxi) Sun Herald. Ken Moritsugu in Washington contributed to this story.)
(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): USIRAQ deaths