Questions raised over Web claim of soldier kidnapped in Iraq

This image of what appears to be a captured US soldier was posted on an Iraqi militant website, Tuesday. According to the website, the militants threatened to behead the hostage in 72 hours unless the Americans release Iraqi prisoners. The claim could not be verified.

The Associated Press
Published: Tuesday, February 1, 2005 at 1:57 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 1, 2005 at 1:56 p.m.

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - A Web site posted a photograph of what it claimed was a kidnapped U.S. soldier, but doubts were quickly raised about its authenticity and the U.S. military said no soldiers were missing.

A toy manufacturer said the figure in the photo resembled one of its military action figures, originally produced for sale at U.S. bases in Kuwait.

The statement appeared on a Web site often used for posting statements from militants, some of which have proven authentic in the past, and was in the name of a group that has claimed previous kidnappings, the Mujahedeen Brigades.

The Arabic text, however, contained several misspellings and repetitions.

Staff Sgt. Nick Minecci of the U.S. military's press office in Baghdad said "no units have reported anyone missing."

The photo in the posting showed a figure dressed in desert camouflage fatigues, wearing a vest and knee pads and with a gun pointed to its head. All the items are similar to ones that come in a box with the action figure, named "Cody."

The figure in the photo appeared stiff and expressionless, and the statement said he was named "John Adam."

Liam Cusack, of the toy manufacturer Dragon Models USA Inc. said the image of the soldier portrayed in the photo bore a striking resemblance to the African-American version of its "Cody" action figure.

"It is our doll ... To me, it looks definitely like it is," Cusack told The Associated Press. "Everything the guy is wearing is exactly what comes with our figure. If you look at the two pictures side by side, it'd be a huge coincidence. To me, the face looks exactly the same."

The company, based in City of Industry, Calif., produced 4,000 of the figures in December 2003 for the U.S. military in Kuwait for sale in their bases, "so they would have been in region." The figure was never sold in the United States but is also traded on line among collectors, sometimes to use in highly realistic dioramas.

The figure in the photo has its arms behind its body, as if tied there and is leaned against what seems to be a concrete wall. Hanging on the wall is a black piece of cloth with the Islamic profession of faith written on it in white letters.

The Mujahedeen Brigades have claimed responsibility for two kidnappings in the past _ the abduction in April of three Japanese who were released and that of a Brazilian engineer who went missing after an ambush that the Brigades claimed to have carried out along with the Ansar al-Sunnah Army.

More than 180 foreigners have been kidnapped in the past year _ and many of them were announced by videos or still photos on the Web site used Tuesday or on others. At least 10 of the hostages, including three American civilians, remain in the hands of their kidnappers, and more than 30 have been killed.

The only American soldier known to have been taken hostage is Pfc. Keith M. Maupin, 20, of Batavia, Ohio, who was shown in a video in April being held by militants. Another video aired in June showed what purported to be Maupin's slaying, but the picture was too unclear to confirm it was him and the military still lists him as missing.

If proven a fake, Tuesday's posting would not be the first hoax associated with kidnappings in Iraq.

In August, television stations around the world showed a video in which a 22-year-old San Francisco man faked his own beheading by Iraqi militants.

Aspiring politician and video game designer Benjamin Vanderford said he posted the 55-second clip, which shows a knife sawing against his neck, on an online file-sharing network in May. It circulated in cyberspace before crossing over to major media, airing on Arab television.

Vanderford said the hoax was done "to just make a statement on these type of videos and how easily they can be faked."

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