US hostage dead says official

An official with the provincial governorate of Iraq’s southern city of Basra has told AFP that Iraqi police found the body of an American where they conducted a raid.

One US citizen and an Austrian are yet to be traced, following the raid in an area called Al-Dawajin in Zubair district, the official said.

The five security guards were kidnapped on Thursday near Safwan close to the Kuwaiti border as they escorted a convoy of 49 trucks.

Despite the report from the southern official, Crescent Security Group, the Kuwait-based company for which the five work, said it had no confirmation from the US-led coalition.

“We have not received confirmation from the coalition forces that the two people released or the one killed are with our company,” a spokesman of the company told AFP in Kuwait City.

He said the company was in “direct contact” with the coalition forces and so far they had “not informed us of any new developments” regarding the five abducted employees.

Convoy targeted

Militiamen disguised as police officers seized the five as they guarded the convoy in the second reported major abduction in the violence-plagued country in three days.

They were abducted when the convoy of 43 trucks and six security vehicles stopped at “what appeared to be a police checkpoint near Safwan”, a senior US official told AFP.

“Nineteen trucks and one security vehicle were taken by those posing as police.”

The official said the kidnappers seized a total of 14 people but the Kuwait-based employers said that nine truck drivers were later released, leaving the five Westerners in captivity.

Clash

Earlier Friday in an apparent abortive attempt to locate the five missing men, six other security guards illegally entered Iraq from Kuwait and clashed with Iraqi police.

One British guard was killed and another wounded in the gunfight that erupted, a police officer and the British military said.

Two women bystanders and two policemen were also killed.

Speaking from the town of Al-Zubair, the officer said the group of six was stopped by customs police and “clashed with them”.

British military spokesman Lieutenant Commander Mike Baker told AFP that the wounded man was also British.

“He is wounded and at the moment is admitted in a British military hospital,” Baker said by telephone from Basra. “He told us that he believes that another British guard was killed in the fight.”

Mr Baker said, however, that the clashes seem to have occurred when the six guards working for another private security company were escorting a convoy of “ambulances”.