DENVER – Like his father, Aban Elias (search) became a civil engineer to improve living conditions in the Middle East.
The 41-year-old father of three from Denver worked in Jordan and Abu Dhabi before returning to his native Iraq last year. Relatives say he bought a gravel factory to help rebuild roads destroyed by war.
Elias was renovating the plant near Fallujah (search) when he vanished Monday. A group calling itself The Islamic Rage Brigade claimed responsibility and delivered a videotape showing a blindfolded Elias pleading for help to an Arab television station.
So far, there have been no demands for his release.
Elias' mother and brother, who live in Denver, were devastated after reporters delivered the news Thursday. His brother, Kazwan Elias, said he could not understand why an Iraqi — and a Muslim — who was working to help his country would be in danger.
"This is insane to just have him captured like this," he said. "I just don't understand what's going on."
Aban Elias was shown in a 20-second video clip appealing to Islamic agencies to win his release. At a news briefing in Denver on Thursday, his brother and mother, Thamara Mahmood Alsaloum, made similar pleas.
"I was kidnapped and I call upon Muslim organizations to interfere to release me," Aban Elias said on the tape.
Alsaloum, who spoke tearfully in Arabic, told of Aban Elias' children — ages 6, 4 and 1 — and wife, who live in Jordan. She said her son has no political motivations.
"We had no problems with Saddam or after Saddam. We are nonpolitical and lived out of Iraq all our lives," Kazwan Elias said. "He was just trying to do something to help rebuild some roads and get some work done."
Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette (search) said officials of the State Department and Defense Department have assured her they are working to secure Elias' release.
Aban Elias' family moved in the early 1970s from Iraq to Abu Dhabi, where the father worked on public-works projects, his brother said. Aban Elias traveled to Denver in 1982 to study, and Kazwan Elias, 35, followed five years later.
It was unclear what Aban Elias did in Denver until spring 1987, when he began working for the state Transportation Department and enrolled at Metropolitan State College of Denver. He left the department in August 1987, said agency spokeswoman Stacey Stegman. She did not have details of his work, but said he told officials he was returning to school.
He studied engineering at Metro State, but apparently did not earn a degree before he left at the end of the fall 1988 semester, college spokeswoman Cathy Lucas said.
Kazwan Elias said his brother then worked in Abu Dhabi and Jordan before returning with his mother in May 2003 to Iraq, where a family home in Baghdad had been looted.
Aban Elias stayed on and eventually bought the gravel operation, relatives said. He said on the video clip he was working for the Pentagon; Kazwan Elias said he believed his brother was working for himself.
Ved Nanda, a professor of international legal studies at the University of Denver, said many Iraqis who left their country and were seen by the United States as Iraq's future leaders are viewed with suspicion by those who stayed and suffered under Saddam Hussein.
"They're not seen with a great deal of hope and optimism and trust," Nanda said.