The remains of three American contractors kidnapped in southern Iraq have been recovered, according to U.S. officials, confirming ransom negotiation experts' predictions that the contractors were executed.
"Their chances of survival were slim to none because we were not hearing from the kidnappers," said Jack Cloonan, a former FBI agent, who now heads a crisis management firm that has handled ransom negotiations in Iraq.
"We are seeing captured U.S. citizens used for retribution and propaganda," he said. "There is a way to successfully negotiate a kidnapping in Iraq, but when it involves an American citizen, particularly a security contractor or a member of the military, political retribution trumps kidnapping for ransom and the end game is not a pay-off."
Cloonan said al Qaeda and other militants target security contractors with the same vehemence as they target U.S. military personnel. "They are No. 1 on the hit list," he said, adding that when insurgents do put a ransom price on an American, it can be as high as many millions of dollars, much higher than for kidnapped Iraqis.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation announced yesterday that the remains of John Roy Young of Missouri (pictured) and Ronald Withrow of Texas had been found, crushing the victims' families' hopes that their loved ones were still alive. Their hopes had been raised two weeks ago when insurgents sent five severed fingers of kidnapped contractors to the U.S. Army.
Young was one of four Americans and an Austrian kidnapped in southern Iraq on Nov. 16, 2006. They were taken by insurgents dressed in police uniforms who ambushed their convoy near the Kuwaiti border. All the men worked as security contractors for the Kuwait-based Crescent Security Group.
Withrow was working in Iraq for the Nevada-based information technology company, JPI Worldwide, when he disappeared on Jan. 5, 2007, near Basra.
The FBI has not released the names of the three additional bodies found, but they are believed to be those of the other Crescent Security Group workers, according to an official briefed on the case.
One of Withrow's fingers and the fingers of four of the Crescent Security Group workers -- Americans Paul Reuben, Jonathon Cote and Joshua Munns and Bert Nussbaumer, of Vienna, Austria -- were sent to the U.S. Army, the State Department announced March 13. Young's finger was not among them, but his mother, Sharon DeBrabander, told reporters that she was still hopeful her son would come home. Young's and Withrow's bodies have arrived at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
An official briefed on the case who was not authorized to speak on the record said an FBI laboratory is working to determine how long ago the fingers were severed.
Until the recent arrival of the fingers, U.S. officials received little news of the Crescent Security Group captives beyond a video that emerged shortly after their capture, in which militants said they would be held until detainees were released from American and British jails.
The FBI said its Office of Victim Assistance has been in contact with the victims' families since the men were kidnapped, and that it has notified the families of the recovery of Young's and Withrow's remains.
"The men and women of the FBI wish to express our deepest sympathy to the victims' families," said FBI spokesman Richard Kolko.
Kolko said this is an open investigation, and the FBI working with the Hostage Working Group in Iraq will continue to "aggressively investigate every available lead in order to identify, apprehend and bring to justice those responsible for this heinous criminal act."