BAGHDAD, Iraq – The U.S. military identified a kidnapped soldier for the first time on Thursday, saying he was 41-year-old Ahmed Qusai al-Taayie.
Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell also confirmed widely published reports that the reserve soldier was visiting his Iraqi wife when he was handcuffed and taken away by gunmen during a visit to the woman's family.
The soldier's name first became known after a woman claiming to be his mother-in-law told the story of the interpreter's allegedly secret marriage three months ago and his abduction on Oct. 23.
But Caldwell said that the soldier and his wife were "married in February 2005 and he didn't arrive in theater until November 2005. So he has every right, of course, as an American soldier to marry whomever he wants... .At the time he was abducted his wife was in country here, in Baghdad."
Caldwell did not say where the couple was married.
The spokesman said the United States believed the soldier was still in the custody of his abductors and there was "an ongoing dialogue" to win the his release. He did not say with whom or at what level.
The military spokesman also said that sectarian killing in Baghdad dropped by 41 percent last week during the U.S. imposition of blockades on two Baghdad neighborhoods in the search for the soldier. He also credited the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting.
The woman who claimed to al-Taayie's mother-in-law, Latifah Isfieh Nasser said late last week that several of the soldier's in-laws put up a futile struggle to stop the abduction by men believed to be Mahdi Army militia fighters in central Baghdad's Karadah district.
His kidnappers used his cell phone to contact his family, it said.
The mother-in-law said that her daughter, 26-year-old physics student Israa Abdul-Satar, met the soldier a year ago. The couple were married in August and spent their honeymoon in Egypt.
She showed an AP reporter photographs of the couple in Cairo, one of them dated Aug. 14.
A photograph of the couple showing the soldier in a gray suit and Abdul-Satar in a red dress was on the wall of the living room in the two-room apartment, where the newlywed couple stayed when the soldier came to visit. The apartment was in a neglected, three-story building on a quiet street.
Nasser, 48, said she has 10 children, several of whom witnessed the abduction. The wife of the U.S. soldier and two of her siblings — a sister and a brother — were later taken by American troops to the heavily fortified Green Zone where they were being kept for their safety. The zone is a large area in central Baghdad that houses the U.S. Embassy, offices of the Iraqi government and parliament, as well as hundreds of American troops.
"She is so upset that she keeps threatening to take her own life when we speak on the telephone every day," Nasser said of al-Taayie's wife, who is in her final year at Baghdad's al-Mustansariyah University.
She said they did not know exactly what al-Taayie did for a living at the beginning, but that he later told his in-laws that he was a translator with the U.S. military in Iraq.
"We asked him many times not to come to visit us often. The day he was kidnapped, my husband told him not to visit too frequently because he was worried about him."
She said al-Taayie was at the apartment once every two or three months when he and her daughter were engaged. He always came at night, she recalled.
According to Nasser, the abduction of al-Taayie was preceded by an incident on the same day when a neighbor she identified as Abu Rami put a gun to the soldier's head as he was making his way on a motorbike to the nearby home of Nasser's brother, where his wife was visiting.
Abu Rami later said he was suspicious of al-Taayie because he had not seen him before in the neighborhood.
"Ahmed was frightened and his wife was crying," said Nasser. "Fifteen minutes later, a car came and stopped outside my brother's house and four armed men jumped out. They wore black pants, black shirts and white masks. They dragged Ahmed out and slapped handcuffs on him before they bundled him into the back seat of the car.
"My daughters struggled with the kidnappers. One of them broke her hand and another had her hand cut in the struggle. They were begging the gunmen not to take him," said Nasser.
One of her sons, 26-year-old Omar Abdul-Satar, and Abu Rami, the neighbor, followed the kidnappers in another car, but turned back before they could learn where the gunmen were headed. They feared that they too may be kidnapped. Abu Rami has since left the neighborhood with his family and went into hiding, said Nasser.