BAGHDAD, Iraq – Unidentified gunmen abducted a French engineer as he was on his way to work Monday in Baghdad, police and the French foreign ministry said, the latest in a wave of kidnappings of Westerners.
The trial for Saddam Hussein resumed, and defense attorneys walked out briefly after judges on the Iraqi High Tribunal refused to hear arguments over the court's legitimacy. The trial adjourned until Tuesday.
Also Monday, the U.S. military said a soldier assigned to Task Force Baghdad was killed when a patrol hit a roadside bomb on Sunday.
Iraq's army has launched an operation in the Baghdad area, including widespread deployment of troops and frequent checkpoints, in preparation for the Dec. 15 parliamentary election, said Maj. Gen. Abdul-Aziz Mohammed, head of operations at the Defense Ministry.
U.S. troops and Iraqi troops also began an operation Monday in Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, to help "neutralize the insurgency" before the election, a U.S. military said.
At least one Bradley fighting vehicle was destroyed when it was hit by a roadside bomb, but there were no injuries, Iraqi police Lt. Mohammed Al-Ubaidi said.
Operations wrapping up this week along the Euphrates River and in western Anbar province have so far left 745 insurgents dead, 56 wounded and 1,766 detained, Mohammed said. He added that 281 weapons cashes have been discovered.
An Iraqi election official, Ammar Kamil Ashur, was killed and his assistant injured Monday in Baqouba, a local police statement said.
The kidnappers in three cars surrounded the man as he was getting into a car outside a house in the wealthy Mansour district of Baghdad, police Capt. Qassim Hussein said. The man was on his way to work at the Risafa Water Plant, in the center of the capital, he added.
A photo identification card found at the scene was for Bernard Planche, the head of mission for AACCESS NGO, a group that works on U.S.-funded water projects. Traces of blood were also found next to one vehicle.
In Paris, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei confirmed Planche was the victim and that he worked for a non-governmental organization called AACCESS.
Mattei said the French Embassy in Baghdad had previously warned Planche of the dangers he assumed "by not taking the measures essential to his security."
"He had been advised to leave the country or, failing that, to stay in touch with the embassy," Mattei said, adding that the embassy was in close contact with Iraqi authorities to secure his release.
French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin warned French citizens not to travel to Iraq. "It is categorically advised not to undertake any such trip," he said.
Saddam and seven co-defendants are standing trial for the 1982 killing of more than 140 Shiites after an assassination attempt against the former president in Dujail. The first witness took the stand to testify that Saddam's agents carried out random arrests, torture and killings in an Iraqi village.
Small explosions reverberated through Baghdad, apparently from mortar rounds, but there were no immediate reports of damage or casualties. Such explosions are not uncommon in Baghdad and most do not cause any harm.
In Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, a demonstration of support for the former ruler turned violent when protesters began tearing down election posters. Police intervened and arrested three people.
A statement released Sunday by the office of Mouwaffak al-Rubaie, Iraq's national security adviser, said the 1920 Revolution Brigades, one of the country's best-known insurgent groups, planned to attack the building during the court session.
As French officials began working on the latest kidnapping case, German officials and a British peace activist reported no progress in obtaining the release of a German aid worker and four Western members of Christian Peacemaker Teams.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on Monday encouraged the kidnappers of the four Christian peace activists to make contact, saying "we stand ready to hear what they have to say."
The British Broadcasting Corp., meanwhile, quoted a Western diplomat in Baghdad as saying direct contact had been made with the hostage-takers. It did not identify the diplomat.
On Friday, Al-Jazeera broadcast a videotape and statement in which the kidnappers threatened to kill the hostages unless all prisoners in U.S. and Iraqi detention centers were freed by Dec. 8.
The Christian activists — Norman Kember, 74, of London; Tom Fox, 54, of Clear Brook, Va.; James Loney, 41, of Toronto; and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, of Canada — had been repeatedly warned by Iraqi and Western security officials that they were taking a grave risk by moving about Baghdad without bodyguards.
The group has asked that no military action be taken to free the hostages and has appealed to the groups that has taken credit for the abduction — the Swords of Righteousness Brigade — to release them.
In Berlin, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said a special crisis team was working to secure the release of Susanne Osthoff, 43, and her driver, but had no further information on their fate Monday. They were seized on Nov. 25.
In a video made public last Tuesday but never broadcast in full, her kidnappers threatened to kill her unless Germany stops cooperating with the Iraqi government. According to news reports in Germany, the kidnappers' ultimatum expired in the early hours of Friday, but the government has refused to comment on those reports.
"The German government is continuing its efforts to clarify the fate of the German citizen who has been missing in Iraq since last Friday," Jens Ploetner, spokesman for the German Foreign Ministry told reporters.