Kidnapped US soldier, 20, paraded on TV by captors

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The Independent Online

An American soldier kidnapped by Iraqi insurgents was paraded in front of masked gunmen on a video broadcast by the Arabic al-Jazeera television network last night .

On the tape, which was also sent to US military commanders on the ground, a white man dressed in military fatigues was shown sitting on the floor surrounded by armed guerrillas. Speaking softly, he identified himself as "Keith Matthew Maupin".

A masked gunman, who said he was a member of a group of mujahedin, offered to exchange the soldier for Iraqi prisoners held captive by US forces.

Mr Maupin,a 20-year-old from Batavia, Ohio, was one of two American soldiers who went missing, along with seven civilian contractors from the American firm Halliburton, during an ambush on a supply convoy on 9 April. Four civilian security guards were incinerated and subsequently buried in a roadside grave.

The Halliburton workers and Mr Maupin's comrade Sergeant Elmer Krause, 40, of Greensboro, North Carolina, are still unaccounted for.

Mr Maupin did not appear to have been injured in the video. He generally stared straight ahead but occasionally flashed glances to his side while he was being filmed. There was no ultimatum, and no threat to kill or maim him from his captors.

The speaker on the tape said: "A group of mujahedin has succeeded in taking an American soldier prisoner ... and he will be treated in the Islamic tradition of treating prisoners and he is in good health.

"We are willing to exchange him for Iraqis held by the American enemy ... he was ambushed in his Hummer and he surrendered to us. This is the fate of all American soldiers in Iraq." Some parts of the brief tape were inaudible. At least in the version broadcast by al-Jazeera, Pfc Maupin's voice was muffled by an Arabic translation. The translation said he had come to Iraq to liberate it and that he wanted to go home to his family, including a 10-month-old son.

In all, more than 40 foreigners, including journalists, missionaries, reconstruction and aid workers, have been taken hostage in Iraq this month. Their captors have demanded that Japan, Italy and other countries withdraw their military forces from the US-led coalition occupying Iraq.

At least one of the hostages, an Italian civilian, has been killed by his captors. Two more hostages, a Jordanian and a Dane, were taken in Iraq yesterday. A Canadian and three Czechs were freed.

Journalists Michal Kubal and Petr Klima from Czech Television and Vit Pohanka from Czech Radio had been held since Sunday after being kidnapped from a taxi in the troubled city of Fallujah.

A Canadian humanitarian worker Fadi Ihsan Fadel was delivered by his captors to the office of the radical cleric Muqtada Sadr in Najaf. The Syrian-born 33-year-old said he had been beaten after being kidnapped along with Palestinian Nabil George Razuq on 8 April. There was no information about Mr Razuq. Meanwhile two of the three Japanese hostages freed on Thursday said they wanted to return to the country. Noriaki Imai, 18, Soichiro Koriyama, 32, and Nahoko Takato, 34, were taken to hospital in Dubai yesterday for stress tests, officials said. They were likely to return to Japan at the weekend, but Mr Koriyama's mother said her son told her shortly after being freed that he wanted to stay to take photos. The three had already come under criticism in some quarters for travelling to Iraq. The Japanese Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, who welcomed their release as "wonderful" said angrily: "I would hope they would think twice about that."