This raises fears that they may join the more than two dozen foreigners from 11 countries that were taken hostage in separate incidents by insurgents over the last week.
On Saturday a video was released with one American hostage, Thomas Hamill, a truck driver for Kellogg, Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton. Hamill had been kidnapped on Friday and his captors threatened to kill him unless U.S. troops ended their assault on the city of Fallujah. The deadline passed Sunday morning, and Hamill’s fate remains unknown.
“We’re all just praying for him,” said Macon Mayor Dorothy Baker Hines, mayor of Hamill’s small hometown in eastern Mississippi. “That’s about all we can do right now. We’re going to show him our support.”
Hamill is a father of two, and left his struggling dairy farm to earn money to pay for his wife’s medical bills.
Sunday was also the deadline for three Japanese nationals who had been taken by a group calling themselves the Mujahedeen Brigades. The Japanese civilians– two aid workers and a photojournalist– had been threatened with immolation if Japan did not withdraw its troops from Iraq. Japan has more than 500 non-combat troops in the country, part of a larger humanitarian force.
“The anxiety is overwhelming,” said Takashi Imai, father of the 18-year-old hostage Naoki Imai. “I know the troops are in Iraq to make a contribution — but so is our son. They can’t just let him be killed.”
The initial decision to send troops to Iraq had sparked controversy and criticism of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. A video of the three hostages held at gunpoint and threatened with knives has renewed protests calling for the recall of Japanese troops.
Hostages from other countries have been taken as well. Seven Chinese were reported kidnapped Sunday night in central Iraq. The seven were traveling from the Jordanian border to Baghdad. China has not contributed any troops or state workers to the Iraq coalition and it is unclear why the Chinese citizens were there. Chinese media sources have reported that the men were from a region that frequently sends migrants abroad to work.
Other kidnap victims include a two-man Czech television crew, an Israeli Arab aid worker, a Syrian-born Canadian aid worker, among others.
Foreign hostages have also been released in recent days. Ten captives of various nationalities were recently let go, including a Briton, two Turks, three Pakistanis, a Filipino, a Nepalese, an Indian, and a tenth of unknown nationality. On Thursday seven South Korean Christian missionaries were released after being held by kidnappers for several hours.
Later Monday, members of the Iraqi Governing Council told reporters that an additional three hostages may have been released, but it was not immediately clear what nationality the three were.