BAGHDAD – A missing Iraqi-American contractor was kidnapped by Shiite militiamen who lured him into central Baghdad by promising to help him find distant relatives, an Iraqi defense official said Saturday.
A Shiite extremist group claimed responsibility for the Jan. 23 kidnapping and posted a video online that shows a man wearing military fatigues reading a list of demands that includes the release of militants, the prosecution of Blackwater guards and an immediate American troop withdrawal.
A high-ranking Iraqi defense official and an American intelligence official identified the man in the video as Issa T. Salomi, the missing contractor. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.
The Iraqi defense official said Salomi was abducted in the central Baghdad district of Karradah. He said Salomi is of Iraqi origin and that his abductors led him to believe they would help him find family members.
Salomi, 60, of El Cajon, California, has been missing since Jan. 23, the Pentagon said in a statement late Friday that provided the first news of Salomi's disappearance.
A U.S. intelligence official said initial investigations indicated Salomi was abducted by criminals for revenge or money — and not as part of a terrorism scheme.
Salomi was abducted when he was leaving his home in Baghdad, where he has relatives, the official said.
In the video, Salomi — who did not identify himself — is seated in a chair and wearing what looks like a U.S. military uniform. A black banner with the name of the militant group — the League of the Righteous, also known by its Arabic name, Asaib Ahl al-Haq — written in white Arabic script hangs behind him.
Salomi says his abductors are demanding the release of militants "that resisted the occupation."
"The second demand is to bring the proper justice and the proper punishment to those members of Blackwater company that have committed unjustifiable crimes against innocent Iraqi civilians," he said. "And to bring justice by proper compensation to the families that have been involved in great suffering because of this incident."
Blackwater security contractors were protecting U.S. diplomats when the guards opened fire in Nisoor Square, a crowded Baghdad intersection, on Sept. 16, 2007. Seventeen people were killed, including women and children, in a shooting that inflamed anti-American sentiment in Iraq.
Vice President Joe Biden has said the U.S. plans to appeal a court decision dismissing manslaughter charges against the five Blackwater guards involved in the shooting.
Salomi's family issued a statement, released through the FBI in San Diego, saying they were hoping for his safe return. The statement did not say whether Salomi was believed abducted.
"We are confident that everything is being done by the most capable people here and abroad to bring Issa home safely, and we all are anxiously awaiting his safe return," the statement said.
The same group that claimed to have kidnapped Salomi was believed to be behind the kidnapping of British computer consultant Peter Moore in May 2007 along with his four British bodyguards. Moore was handed over to Iraqi authorities in late December. Three of the bodyguards were killed and the fourth is believed dead.
The British government has said no deals were struck for Moore's release, though it coincided with the transfer of the militant group's leader, Qais al-Khazali, from U.S. to Iraqi custody.
Al-Khazali and his brother were accused of organizing an attack on a local government headquarters in the city of Karbala that killed five U.S. soldiers on Jan. 20, 2007.