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Wife of kidnapped American: Free my husband

Liliana Ake breaks yearlong silence

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Liliana Ake issued a plea for her husband's life Tuesday from her home in LaPorte, Indiana.

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(CNN) -- A year after American businessman Jeffrey Ake was kidnapped in Iraq, his wife, Liliana, spoke publicly on Tuesday for the first time to plead for her husband's release.

"Please take the next step to release my husband and return his children's lives to normal," said Liliana Ake during an interview from her home in LaPorte, Indiana.

Jeffrey Ake, 48, was in Iraq helping to build a water bottling plant on April 11, 2005, when he was kidnapped from a work site near Baghdad. (Watch as Ake's wife makes her plea and describes a life of waiting -- 7:35)

"He was in Iraq making certain that the Iraqi people have fresh, good water to drink," she said.

According to a British Ministry of Defense poll on security and living conditions in Iraq, 71 percent of Iraqis participating in the August 2005 survey said they rarely had "safe, clean water."

Jeffrey Ake was last seen two days later when Arabic-language satellite TV channel Al-Jazeera broadcast a video from insurgents that showed terrorists holding Ake at gunpoint.

There have been no public claims of responsibility for the kidnapping.

Over the last year, Liliana Ake, other family members, and business associates shunned attention from the news media out of fear for Ake's safety.

"Right now it's been the whole year and I think it's time," his wife said.

She said she was spurred to speak out by the powerful media campaign that may have helped free kidnapped journalist Jill Carroll.

Carroll -- who was held for nearly three months -- was freed unharmed in Baghdad on March 30. Three abducted humanitarian workers from Christian Peacemaker Teams were rescued unharmed in Iraq on March 23 after four months in captivity.

"I never actually doubted that Jeff is alive and I never doubted that Jill Carroll will be released and I am celebrating her release," Liliana Ake said. "I'm very happy for her."

Liliana Ake's statement for her husband's abductors said, "One year ago, Jeff Ake, my husband and father of four, was taken hostage, where he remains today. He was in Iraq making certain that the Iraqi people have fresh, good water to drink.

"To the individuals who are holding my husband, Jeff: You have had one year to know him. For that reason, Jeff's family and all our friends continue to believe Jeff is still alive. And you are responsible for his safety.

"When you kidnapped Jeff, you contacted me at my residence and we discussed matters of importance to us both. My telephone number remains the same and my willingness to continue this dialogue remains as strong as it was before.

"In order to resolve this matter and secure Jeff's release, you must call me again. Jeff should be able to give you the number. Please take the next step to release my husband and return his children's lives to normal."

During the interview she elaborated on the terrifying ordeal.

After Ake was whisked away, she said she heard from the kidnappers, who said "they were holding him and they would destroy him if I don't cooperate with them."

She said they called her at her home number, which came as quite a shock. She was able to verify that they had her husband because she asked the caller several questions and she received answers that only her husband would know.

She said the callers wanted money, but also made vague mention of political demands, including a reference to American troops.

However, she said she never heard from the callers again after May 1.

In the video that was aired on Al-Jazeera, Jeffrey Ake was seen being held by masked insurgents holding him at gunpoint.

"I ask my family and friends to demonstrate and speak directly to the American government to open discussions with the Iraqi national resistance," Jeffrey Ake said on the video.

Liliana Ake said, "When I looked at that picture, I was shocked and I prayed that Jeff would be safely released."

During the time since the abduction, she said, it has been "a very, very hard year."

"I haven't slept all year. I wake up in the middle of the night at 1 and I cannot sleep."

"The children are suffering" and are afraid, she said, noting that birthdays have come and gone and Christmas was "never the same."

Her decision to go public has been a tough one.

She didn't make any moves because she was "afraid for Jeff's life. I did not know whether my request or plea would help him or harm him."

Last year, a few days after he was kidnapped, a candlelight prayer vigil that had been scheduled in LaPorte was canceled amid concerns for Ake's safety.

The people in northwestern Indiana, horrified by the abduction, have expressed their solidarity in small but poignant ways.

They have said prayers for Ake before City Council meetings, put up red, white and blue ribbons or images of them with the phrase, "Jeff, Come Home Safe!" and erected signs on windows and letter boards urging people to remember and pray for him.

But after a year, Ake's profile has dimmed on the world stage, in comparison with Carroll, for example, whose family members, friends and colleagues swung into action with a massive, sustained campaign to prompt the release of the freelance journalist.

Liliana Ake said she agreed that the Carroll's public strategy worked and "that's why I decided to go public as well."

Before his kidnapping, Ake earned the admiration of his business peers and Indiana neighbors.

He has been devoted to helping the developing world with its water infrastructure, admired for building a productive company and involved in community work that helps the less fortunate.

According to Marquis Who's Who, Ake has been involved in such volunteer programs as the Big Brothers and Big Sisters, the Jaycees, and a program to help reform prison inmates.

He founded his company, Equipment Express, in 1995.

The company -- which says it has had "extraordinary growth" and has more than doubled "in size each year since its inception" -- has been honored for its growth and performance by the Indiana University Kelley School of Business's Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

Ake imparted his business ideas in a book he wrote 10 years ago -- "Aggressive Exporting: How To Make Your Small Company into an International Tiger."

Liliana Ake said her husband has been all over the world in his work, traveling to more than 60 countries, including Egypt, Kuwait and Iraq. She said he was making his second visit to Iraq when he was kidnapped.

For Iraq, the company built a machine that fills containers of cooking oil and a system to provide water bottling services.

"He embraced every culture," Liliana Ake said.

Asked what she would want to say to her husband if he could hear her, she said "I would like to tell him I love him and I want him back."

She thanked everybody across the country who has prayed for her and sent encouraging letters.

"Please keep on praying for us."

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