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Seven Chinese reported kidnapped in Iraq

Briton released, but no word on other civilians held hostage


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American Thomas Hamill is shown in a car with one of his captors.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Seven Chinese men were kidnapped Sunday night by gunmen in central Iraq, apparently as they were traveling from the Jordanian border toward Baghdad, China's official state news agency, Xinhua, reported early Monday.

Arabic-language television channel Al-Arabiya also reported the kidnappings, saying it had received a videotape from hostage-takers with footage of the captives that it planned to broadcast.

The abduction took place near Fallujah. It was unclear why the men -- all between 18 and 49 and from Fujian province in southern China -- were traveling to Iraq.

Xinhua reported they may have taken a detour as they were traveling to Baghdad because the normal route from the Jordanian border to the capital has been closed by recent fighting.

The news agency attributed its reports to Chinese officials in Baghdad and four released hostages who reported seeing the captives.

The report was the latest of several recent kidnappings of civilian foreign nationals in Iraq by various militant groups.

British citizen Gary Teeley, who lives in the Middle East, was released Sunday after being reported missing Thursday, the British Foreign Ministry said, but there was no word on other captives, including an American and three Japanese.

The American hostage, identified as Thomas Hamill, 43, a truck driver for Kellogg, Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, was shown being held by masked gunmen in video broadcast Saturday by the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

The video indicated Hamill was captured between Baghdad and Fallujah, 35 miles (56 kilometers) west of the capital, where U.S. Marines have been fighting insurgents for control of the town.

The network showed a car stopping on a highway and armed, masked men getting out and asking journalists to look at Hamill, who was sitting in the back seat next to a gunman.

A journalist asked Hamill what happened, and he replied that "they attacked our convoy. That's all I'm going to say." He gave his name, then the men got into the car and drove off.

It was unclear if Hamill was referring to an incident Friday when a fuel convoy was attacked near Baghdad International Airport.

The Pentagon said two U.S. soldiers and four civilian contractors -- some of them Americans -- are unaccounted for after the fuel convoy was attacked. The four worked for the same company.

One U.S. soldier and an Iraqi driver were killed in the incident, and 12 people were wounded.

The Arabic-language network Al-Jazeera later broadcast video of Hamill sitting in front of an Iraqi flag.

A voice, apparently from one of the abductors, said if U.S. troops did not leave Fallujah by 6 a.m. Sunday (10 p.m. Saturday ET) he would "be treated worse than the four Americans that were killed in Fallujah."

The latter was a reference to the killings of four civilian contractors March 31. Their remains were dragged in the street and hanged from a bridge over the Euphrates River.

Hamill, a father of two, is from Macon, Mississippi, a town of about 2,500 near the Alabama border, about 60 miles north of Meridian.

He is a former dairy farmer who went to Iraq to work as a truck driver, and his wife, Kellie, runs the local 911 system, Macon Mayor Dorothy Hines said.

Hamill's family and friends held a vigil for him Sunday night as they awaited word of his fate.

Meanwhile, the Japanese Kyodo news agency reported that the three Japanese hostages would be freed at 7 a.m. Sunday (11 p.m. Saturday ET). But that deadline also passed with no word on whether the hostages were let go.

The kidnappers threatened to burn the Japanese hostages alive Sunday unless Japan pulls its troops out of Iraq. (Full story)

About two hours after the deadline, Japan's Jiji news agency reported that Al-Jazeera said the hostages had been released. Al-Jazeera denied reporting that.

The three Japanese civilians -- a journalist, a nongovernmental organization worker and an aid worker -- were kidnapped last week, as were an Arab man from Jerusalem and a Syrian-born Canadian, both aid workers.

Germany's Foreign Ministry said there is a "high probability" that two German security workers missing in Iraq are dead.

They were en route from Amman, Jordan, to Baghdad to work as security guards for the German Embassy when their convoy came under attack Wednesday, according to German state media.

The rest of the convoy arrived in Baghdad, according to the media reports. German officials do not expect to confirm the deaths for several days, until the bodies are recovered.

Seven South Korean Christian missionaries were released Thursday after kidnappers held them for several hours.

In the case of the Chinese captives, the head of a Chinese advance team setting up an embassy in Baghdad, Sun Bijan, told Xinhua that he was holding emergency meetings with officials in the Iraqi Interior Ministry and working through other channels, trying to obtain information about the hostages and secure their release.

CNN's Octavia Nasr, Claudia Otto, Jaime FlorCruz and Caroline Faraj contributed to this report.


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