U.S. Marines suspended assistance and reconstruction projects in a suburb of the restive city of Fallujah (search) on Sunday, after an interpreter working for the Marines was abducted, the military and police said.

Three masked men seized the interpreter, Hassan Abdul-Hadi, when he went to a restaurant to buy tea for his comrades, Iraqi officer Ziad Abed said.

A Marine quick response team cordoned the restaurant in Karma, about 40 miles west of the capital Baghdad, said Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. A house-to-house search failed to find the translator.

Byrne demanded Abdul-Hadi's safe return in a meeting of local officials Sunday.

"Hassan is a father of small children, he is not a member of the military but a civilian who is helping bridge the communication gap here," Byrne told the elders.

All assistance and rebuilding projects will be "suspended indefinitely until Hassan is found," Byrne said. He urged the elders to "use their influence" to get the interpreter back.

"Those who kidnapped Hassan represent the worst of this society," Byrne told the elders. "I need you to find him."

Local Iraqis have come under attack because of their work for U.S. forces and have been labeled as "traitors" by the anti-American insurgency here.

Marines based at the Karma's police station and their convoys in the area have been the target of frequent attacks, although violence has largely abated in the past weeks.

Fallujah was the scene of heavy fighting in April between the Marines and insurgents loyal to the former regime of Saddam Hussein (search). The fighting was prompted by the April 5 massacre of four American civilian contractors whose bodies were mutilated and dragged burning through Fallujah streets amid a cheering, frenzied crowd.

The Marines withdrew from Fallujah into the countrtyside and suburbs such as Karma after an agreement to hand over security to an all-Iraqi force.