Czechs, Others Freed; Dane, Arab Kidnapped

Three Czech journalists, and possibly a Canadian and a Chinese man, were freed unharmed in Iraq Friday, but a man from the United Arab Emirates and a Danish businessman were reported kidnapped, the latest in a wave of abductions that have accompanied a surge of violence in Iraq.

The Arab man was pulled from his hotel by gunmen disguised as police in the southern city of Basra on Thursday night, according to Iraqi police official Col. Khalaf al-Maliki and the hotel's owner, who asked not to be identified.

The victim was carrying a passport from the United Arab Emirates (search) that had U.S. travel stamps in it, leading to earlier incorrect reports that he was American, al-Maliki said.

It was not immediately clear whether the abduction was connected to the wave of political kidnappings by insurgents across Iraq, or simply for criminal reasons.

The three Czechs had been missing since Sunday after checking out of their hotel to leave for Jordan by taxi.

"We all are in good condition," reporter Vit Pohanka (search) told Czech Radio from the Czech Embassy in Baghdad, speaking along with Czech Television reporter Michal Kubal and cameraman Petr Klima.

After being held in an unknown location northwest of Baghdad, the Czechs were brought to the outskirts of the city Friday, and they took a taxi to the Czech Embassy, Pohanka said.

"We were all together, we had a place to sleep, we had something to eat, we had something to drink, that was essential," Pohanka said.

Their captors questioned them, videotaping the interviews, he added.

While in captivity, the three Czechs were unaware that other foreigners were also being kidnapped in Iraq.

"We were all alone," he said. "Nobody told us anything."

Reuters reported Friday that the Syrian-born Canadian had been released into the custody of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Najaf.

Fadi Ihsan Fadel, the Canadian aid worker, told a Reuters reporter after his release that his captors had moved him every few hours and accused him of being a Jew.

Fadel was kidnapped along with a Palestinian man from East Jerusalem, Nabil George Razouq, on April 7 in Najaf. There was no information about Razouq's status. Earlier reports had mistaken Fadel for another Arab from East Jerusalem.

A Chinese citizen also was released Friday, two days after being taken captive, said Muthanna Harith, a member of the Islamic Clerics Committee (search), the highest Sunni organization in Iraq. There had been no public reports of the Chinese man being taken.

The clerics' committee had also successfully helped free three Japanese civilians on Thursday. That same day, however, an Italian security guard was killed in captivity.

"The Chinese Embassy (search) confirmed to us that the Chinese hostage who was kidnapped the day before yesterday was released and he arrived safely at the Chinese Embassy" Harith told reporters.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing had no immediate comment.

Seven Chinese men were abducted this weekend in Fallujah, the site of fierce fighting between U.S. Marines and Iraqi insurgents. They were freed Monday in good health.

The Danish Foreign Ministry did not identify the Dane who was kidnapped.

"A Danish national likely is being held back in Iraq," the Danish Foreign Ministry said in a statement from Copenhagen. "No Iraqis or Iraqi groups have contacted Danish authorities."

Danish television station DR-1 reported that the victim was a businessman in his 30s working on a sewage project in Iraq. The man was traveling from Basra to Baghdad when he was taken captive in Taji, 20 miles north of Baghdad, DR-1 said.

Denmark, which backed the U.S.-led war to oust Saddam Hussein, has 410 troops in Basra and nearby Qurnah, 250 miles southeast of Baghdad. There are also a dozen Danish police officers in Basra.

Russia, meanwhile, sent another plane Friday to evacuate employees of its companies from Iraq but said many workers have chosen to stay. Foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Yegorov said the plane was to bring back 118 people.

The two-day evacuation effort began Thursday after the abduction of three Russian and five Ukrainian employees of Interenergoservis on Monday. They were released unharmed the next day.

The three Japanese, who were taken hostage last week by a previously unknown group that demanded Tokyo pull out its troops, were expected to be flown to Dubai for medical examinations before returning home.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who has refused to withdraw the 500 Japanese troops in Iraq, called the release a "great relief" and urged the three to "think twice" before returning to Iraq.

Koizumi also cautioned that two more Japanese, both journalists, may have been kidnapped. "We haven't been able to confirm what happened to them," he said.

The Arab television station Al-Jazeera showed the three Japanese who were released being served tea at the clerics' office upon their release. Aid worker Nahoko Takato broke down in tears, and one of the clerics — wearing traditional robes and a headscarf — spoke to her gently.

Takato, fellow aid worker Noriaki Imai and Soichiro Koriyama appeared to be in good health. Interviewed by Al-Jazeera, Takato and Koriyama said they want to return to Iraq despite the kidnapping.

"I will continue (aid work in Iraq)," Takato said. "I've been through many shocking events and I'm exhausted, but I still can't dislike Iraqi people."

At home, the former hostages were criticized for going to Iraq. The conservative Nihon Keizai, Japan's leading financial newspaper, said in an editorial that the three could have "compromised Japan's humanitarian mission in Iraq, and this country's foreign policy in general."

On Thursday, kidnappers executed an Italian — the first known killing of a hostage in the current crisis. His captors warned they would kill three more Italians in their custody unless Italy withdraws its troops. All four Italians were security guards working for a U.S.-based company.

Shocked Italians closed ranks as Premier Silvio Berlusconi insisted on Thursday that he would not withdraw Italian troops from Iraq after the slaying of Fabrizio Quattrocchi.

With 3,000 troops, the Italian contingent is the third largest after those from the United States and Britain.

American experts also continued working to determine whether four bodies discovered west of Baghdad were the remains of seven private U.S. contractors missing since a March 9 attack against their convoy. One of the missing — Thomas Hamill, a 43-year-old truck driver — is known to have been abducted.

French television journalist Alex Jordanov, who was freed late Wednesday after four days in captivity, told the AP he was repeatedly interrogated by kidnappers who demanded to know if he was an Israeli spy. He proved he was French in part by drawing a map of France, a nation insurgents look on more favorably because it has not joined the U.S.-led coalition.