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Iraq Transition

Videotape emerges amid all-out hunt for hostages in Iraq

Story Highlights

NEW: Family releases picture of one of five Western contractors abducted
• Senior official of powerful Shiite political party, wife, killed in Baghdad
• Islamic Mujahedeen Battalion claims it took Westerners, Iranian TV reports
• Raid launched in Sadr City to recover hostages from Baghdad research institute
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi forces on Saturday were searching for five Western security contractors seized in southern Iraq as well as hostages taken in a mass kidnapping at a Baghdad research institute this week.

An Iranian-run Arabic-language satellite news station, al-Alam, aired a video Saturday the station said was from a group claiming to have abducted four Americans and an Austrian at a fake checkpoint.

The video showed a man wearing a white head scarf wrapped around his face but no evidence of the abductees or that his group, Islamic Mujahedeen Battalion, had them.

The five contractors were abducted after crossing Iraq's southern border from Kuwait on Thursday. (Watch what is known about the hostage-taking -- 1:41 Video)

During al-Alam's broadcast, the man's voice was inaudible, and the station's presenter said the video was from the group that claimed to have kidnapped the contractors and killed four other Americans.

CNN is unable to independently verify the authenticity of the video.

Security sources in the southern Iraqi city of Basra said little is known about the Islamic Mujahedeen Battalion, a Shiite group that surfaced about six months ago and has threatened to attack security companies passing through southern Iraq from Kuwait.

The missing are employees of Crescent Security Corp., which operates out of Kuwait.

The family of one of the missing American contractors released his name and photo to CNN late Saturday, but said they didn't want to make a public statement except to say they hope he is released.

Jonathan Cote, 23, of Getzville, New York, is the second of the kidnapped contractors identified.

On Friday, the name of another contractor was released. He is Paul Reuben, a former police officer from the suburban Minneapolis town of St. Louis Park. (Full story)

The Austrian is a 25-year-old former soldier, the Austrian Foreign Ministry said.

Gunmen masquerading as Iraqi police used a bogus checkpoint to ambush the contractors, who were traveling in a convoy Thursday. Fourteen people were taken and nine truck drivers were later released. (More details)

Iraqi Interior Ministry on Friday retracted a statement that two of the hostages had been freed.

Gunmen posing as Iraqi police also were behind the mass kidnapping at the Baghdad research institute Tuesday.

On Friday, forces raided Sadr City in Baghdad to recover those hostages and "disrupt kidnapping and terror cells" after intelligence indicated an illegally armed group was holding them there, according to the U.S.-led Multi-National Corps.

No Iraqi and coalition forces were hurt, the military statement said, but there was no word on whether any civilians were wounded or killed.

It is still not known exactly how many people were kidnapped from the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research-Scholarships and Cultural Relations Directorate building. Iraq's higher education minister, Abed Dhiyab al-Ajili, said about 70 had been freed by Wednesday night, and another 40 were still missing.

Some may have been tortured, an aide to al-Ajili said, but the minister of the interior said no conclusive evidence had been found.

Head of powerful Shiite party, wife killed

Gunmen opened fire on the senior official of Iraq's most powerful Shiite political party, killing him and his wife, as they drove through western Baghdad Saturday, Iraqi police said.

The official has been identified as Ali Kadhim al-Adadh, a leader in the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and a professor at Baghdad's University of Technology.

The two were driving in the capital's Yarmouk neighborhood when they were attacked.

SCIRI is the leading party in Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's ruling coalition.

Also in Baghdad, 39 bullet-riddled bodies were found in various neighborhoods and were believed to be victims of Sunni-Shiite revenge killings. Most showed signs of torture.

British workers shot

Five Western contractors who were involved in a convoy "incident" in southeastern Iraq on Friday, in which one man died, have been accounted for. The private security contractors worked for the British-based employer, Securiforce.

A British commander in Basra confirmed the contractors were accounted for, but said "the incident was not a hostage taking."

Company Vice President Stephen Thomas reported Saturday that four of them were hospitalized and two of those had undergone surgery for gunshot wounds.

The British Foreign Office said the fifth contractor was being treated at a British military hospital for gunshot wounds.

Like Crescent, whose contractors were kidnapped, Securiforce operates from Kuwait. Its security personnel were crossing the border from Kuwait into Iraq when they too were stopped at a checkpoint by "people in uniform," Thomas said Saturday.

"It is unclear whether those people were entitled to wear them [security uniforms] or not," he said.

The five were forced into two separate vehicles and taken away, Thomas said. He did not offer additional details on the incident but said "it is difficult to get a clear picture of what went on."

A British military spokesman said on Friday that members of a civilian convoy had fought Iraqi security forces just southwest of Basra, around Zubeir, at noon.

It was not clear whether the Securiforce personnel were the members described. (Watch why private military contractors view their job as something worth dying for -- 7:26 Video)

British cash

Britain plans to invest an additional 100 million pounds (about $189 million) into security and reconstruction in Basra, according to British Finance Minister Gordon Brown.

He announced the investment during an unannounced visit to Basra on Saturday to meet with government officials and the British military, whose 7,000-member contingent is based there, British military commander Mike Baker said.

Brown is expected to replace British Prime Minister Tony Blair next year.

Police killed

Violence between gunmen and Iraqi police, backed by the Iraqi army, erupted in Baquba on Saturday morning, killing three Iraqi police officers and wounding three others, a local police official said.

Gunmen were also killed, Iraqi police said, but no precise number was given.

The clashes lasted seven hours and took place in three western neighborhoods, the official said.

Baquba is about 37 miles north of Baghdad.

CNN's Ingrid Formanek, Erin McLaughlin and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.


story.contractor.cote.jpg

Kidnapped American contractor Jonathan Cote is pictured in an undated family photo.

SPECIAL REPORT

• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide
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