Interior Ministry Launches Search

Iraq's Interior Ministry has launched a search operation for a missing French journalist and her translator, a ministry official said, amid a possible witness account that they were abducted in downtown Baghdad.

Florence Aubenas (search), a reporter for the daily newspaper Liberation, and translator Hussein Hanoun al-Saadi were last seen Wednesday morning leaving Aubenas' hotel in the Iraqi capital.

The Interior Ministry official said that so far they have no information or leads on their whereabouts.

"We have formed a fact-find working team to gather information" about the Aubenas and al-Saadi, the official said on condition of anonymity.

A close relative of the translator, who refused to be identified in fear for his own safety, said that Aubenas and al-Saadi were abducted in Baghdad near an entrance to the Green Zone (search), the fortified home of the U.S. Embassy and the interim Iraqi government.

The relative said that he talked to an owner of a nearby restaurant in the Karradet Mariam neighborhood who claimed to have witnessed the abduction. He said a car pulled up to next to the two and they were forced into the vehicle.

The Interior Ministry official could not confirm that claim.

Aubenas's case is the second concerning French journalists in Iraq in the past months.

Journalists Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot were taken hostage on Aug. 20 by the Islamic Army in Iraq while driving between Baghdad and the southern city of Najaf. They were freed Dec. 21, after four months of captivity in Iraq.

French President Jacques Chirac said Friday he was worried about Aubenas' disappearance and urged all French journalists to stay out of the violence-wracked country.