LAPORTE, Ind. – Businessman Jeffrey Ake (search) routinely urged entrepreneurs to travel to other countries to pitch their products, once telling a group to think of foreign nations as "U.S. states with cultural nuances thrown in."
But Ake's frequent travels also made him a possible target. He is believed to have been kidnapped by Iraqi insurgents during his second business trip to Iraq in two years.
Ake, 47, was snatched Monday from a water treatment plant near Baghdad, according to officials at the American Embassy.
A videotape aired Wednesday by Al-Jazeera television showed Ake being held at gunpoint by at least three assailants as the Indiana man clutched what appeared to be a photo and a passport. In the video, Al-Jazeera said, Ake asked the U.S. government to withdraw from Iraq and save his life.
No group claimed responsibility for the abduction.
Ake's friends and business associates said the father of four was in Iraq to help with postwar reconstruction by installing water bottling equipment.
"It's not only devastating, it's also very sad to see an innocent individual going over there and trying to help a country," said David Christian, another businessman in the community about 25 miles west of South Bend. "Having terrorist acts taken against people like that is just unthinkable."
At Ake's ranch-style home in northern Indiana, an American flag fluttered on a pole Wednesday and a yellow ribbon was tied around a tree. By Wednesday night, the house was darkened and no one appeared to be home.
Ake's family and the company he runs, Equipment Express (search), made no immediate public remarks about reports of his kidnapping.
After meeting with the family, LaPorte Police Chief David Gariepy said they were following the FBI's advice in not commenting. He asked the community to "hope and pray and wait."
Equipment Express, in nearby Rolling Prairie, makes machines that fill and cap water bottles. Ake started the company in 1995 out of his garage after working 17 years for a firm once owned by his father.
Ake, author of a 1996 book about exporting, has long championed doing business outside the United States and touted the power of personal sales calls by American entrepreneurs who travel to foreign countries.
"Think of other countries as U.S. states with cultural nuances thrown in," he urged participants in a 1995 trade seminar in Orlando, Fla.
Ake has done business in dozens of countries, including South Korea, Iceland, Indonesia and the Philippines. He also taught American culture and history in Russia. His wife, Liliana, is Russian-born.
Ake traveled often to developing nations to help install systems to provide safe drinking water. Last year, he partnered with a Nigerian businessman to create a multimillion-dollar bottled water company designed to supply clean water to millions of Africans.
"The expertise he had could really help society, and I suspect that is what really motivated him," said LaPorte Mayor Leigh Morris, who knows the couple.
Among Ake's trips to Iraq was a 2003 project to build a machine that fills containers of cooking oil and a system to provide water bottles sold in Baghdad.
Ake is one of at least 14 Americans who have been kidnapped or have gone missing in the past year in Iraq. At least three have been killed.