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U.S. working to free kidnapped reporter

From Elise Labott and Dalit Herdoon

Micah Garen was in Iraq to make a documentary on Iraq's cultural history.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. government officials studying the tape of a Western journalist apparently threatened with death in Iraq believe the man "is being held captive" and are working to get his release, a senior State Department official said Thursday.

In a videotape that aired Wednesday on the Arabic-language network Al-Jazeera, journalist Micah Garen is sitting on the floor. A a masked militant kneels behind him reading a statement, and four others -- also masked -- stand brandishing assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.

The group, which calls itself the Martyrs Brigade, threatened to kill Garen within 48 hours if Americans do not leave Najaf, where fighters loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have been battling Iraqi and U.S. forces around the Imam Ali Mosque for two weeks.

Abductors grabbed Garen, a 36-year-old French journalist with a U.S. passport, and his Iraqi translator, Amir Doshe, Friday in the southern city of Nasiriya.

U.S. officials said they don't know where Garen is and cannot say for sure who has him.

The American Embassy in Baghdad, the Iraqi government and the U.S.-led multinational forces -- particularly the Italians, who patrol Nasiriya -- are working on the investigation.

The State Department has contacted Garen's family.

"After watching the shocking video, what was on TV, everything that's out there is what everyone knows. We really can't say anything at this moment," a source close to the Garen family said Thursday. "It's too fragile right now. We are just hoping for the best."

On Thursday, Paris-based media rights group Reporters Without Borders appealed to al-Sadr to help win the release of Garen and Doshe.

"We are horrified at this threat," the intentional press group said, urging the cleric to use his influence as he purportedly did last week to win the release of British reporter James Brandon.

"Journalists are civilians and their lives must not be used as a means of pressure by various sides in wartime. They must never be taken to represent the government policies of the countries they are citizens of," the group said.

Brandon was kidnapped in Basra and threatened with death by gunmen. He was later released following an order by aides to al-Sadr, according to reports. (Full story)

Following Brandon's abduction, a statement from al-Sadr's aides said that journalists should not be kidnapped.

"We are deeply concerned by the reported threats made by those holding reporter Micah Garen," said Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

"We call on those holding Micah Garen to release him immediately."

Anxious wait

Outside the Manhattan apartment of Garen's fiancee, about 15 journalists gathered Wednesday night. FBI special agents were inside the home, along with relatives of Garen and his fiancee, Marie-Helene Carleton.

Earlier this week, Carleton urged those who might be holding Garen to release him unharmed.

"He was simply doing his job as a journalist by independently reporting on the outcome of recent events in Iraq and by trying to help preserve Iraq's archaeological heritage," she said in a statement issued by Reporters Without Borders.

Garen, who works for Four Corners Media, was in Iraq working on a documentary about archaeological sites and antiquities.

"We are currently making a documentary film on the country's cultural history and the archaeological sites at risk inside the war zones in the hope that they will soon be protected," a message on the company's Web site says, urging Garen's safe release.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said at least 30 other journalists and as many as 11 media workers have been killed in Iraq by Iraqi forces, armed groups and U.S. troops since March 2003.

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