French engineer seized in Iraq
Gunmen today seized a French water engineer from his home in Baghdad, Iraqi police have announced. This is the third kidnapping of Westerners in Iraq in the past 10 days, including those from Christian Peacemaker Teams.
The vast majority of abductees are of Iraqis, and are criminally motivated. But hard-line political religious groups also use kidnappings to exert pressure on their opponents.
According to Reuters News Agency, the Iraqi police gave the man's name, transliterated from Arabic, as Brent Blanche, and said he worked in the Rusafa water treatment plant in eastern Baghdad.
He was snatched by seven gunmen in two cars as he prepared to leave in his own vehicle from his home in the upscale west Baghdad district of Mansour, police quoted witnesses as saying.
Blanche's kidnapping follows the abduction of German archaeologist and aid worker Susanne Osthoff on 25 November 2005 and that of four Christian peace activists - Tom Fox, Harmeet Sooden, James Loney and Norman Kember - the following day.
The recent spate of kidnappings follows a lull in abductions of Westerners in recent months, as most foreigners cut back on all but essential travel around Baghdad.
The French government - which opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 - has taken strong measures to dissuade its citizens from venturing into Iraq following two kidnappings involving French journalists in 2004 and earlier this year.
They included Liberation newspaper reporter Florence Aubenas and her Iraqi guide Hussein Hanun al-Saadi, who were held for more than 150 days before their release in June. French journalists Georges Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot were released in December 2004 after four months in captivity.
Thousands of civilians have been kidnapped in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, including over 200 foreigners. Many fall victim to criminal gangs set on ransom but insurgent groups have also often demanded foreign forces quit Iraq.
Most foreign hostages have been released, but around 50 have been executed -- some by grisly beheadings in front of cameras.
The foreign hostages snatched in the past 10 days have all appeared in videos released by groups claiming to be part of the insurgency and shown on Al Jazeera television.
A previously unknown group called Swords of Truth has threatened to kill the Christian peace activists unless Iraqi detainees are released by Thursday.
The four work for Christian Peacemaker Teams, one of the few aid groups still operating in Iraq. The group has emphasised its opposition to the US presence in Iraq in an effort to secure the hostages' release.
The group holding Osthoff and her Iraqi driver have said the hostages will die if Germany does not stop cooperating with the US-backed government in Baghdad.
[Also on Ekklesia: Anti-war campaigner flies to Iraq to plead for Christian; Search goes on for Christian peacemaker kidnapped in Iraq; Vigils and messages of support for abducted peace activist; Al-Jazeera releases film of Iraq peace hostages; WCC calls for freeing of Christian peace workers; Insurgents say they will kill Christian peacemakers; Briefing on Christian Peacemaker Teams]