Insurgents claiming to represent three Iraqi militant groups issued a videotape Saturday saying they had captured 10 Iraqis working for an American security and reconstruction company and would kill them if the firm did not leave this turbulent country.
The groups, claiming to be the Mujahedeen Army (search), The Black Banner Brigade and the Mutassim Bellah Brigade, also threatened more attacks on Iraqi operations of the company, the Washington-headquartered Sandi Group, and anyone who cooperated with it. Mutassim Bellah was an ancient Iraqi military commander.
"We warn the director of (Sandi Group) ... to close the company completely and all its branches and to leave Iraq. Otherwise those (hostages) who are in our grasp will be killed," a masked militant wearing a traditional black Arab robe says on the tape obtained by Associated Press Television News.
The tape, which could not be immediately verified, showed at least four insurgents with their faces covered by traditional Arab head scarves and posing with machine guns.
A written statement issued by the previously unknown groups said they had "captured a devious group ... that works for the private Sandi Group (search) for security under the cover of protecting Iraqi goods."
It was unclear when the hostages, who identified themselves by name and as residents of Baghdad, were kidnapped, but letters apparently related to the company and shown in the footage were dated Dec. 13.
Chad Knauss, an American and deputy chief operations officer of Sandi Group in Iraq, declined to comment on the claims.
"We are investigating the issue further," said Knauss, who also declined to say if any staff were unaccounted for. Sandi Group employs 7,000 people in Iraq.
The tape released showed nine blindfolded hostages lined up against a stone wall and a 10th lying in a bed, apparently wounded.
The hostages were shown answering questions posed by a purported militant about their work for Sandi Group, and answering that they were employed by the company to provide security services and drive for logistics convoys.
Machine guns, bullet-proof jackets, Iraqi and company identity documents, and communications equipment seized from the hostages were also shown on the tape.
Insurgents regularly attack logistics convoys delivering cargo for coalition and Iraqi forces and kidnap drivers and security personnel as part of a campaign to disrupt the U.S.-led reconstruction of this war-ravaged country.