France's 'Liberation' Says Missing Iraq Reporter Likely Abducted

By: (AP) The French newspaper whose reporter in Baghdad has been missing since last week said yesterday it seemed increasingly likely that she was abducted.

Iraqi and French officials say a search is under way for Florence Aubenas of the French daily Liberation and her Iraqi translator, Hussein Hanoun al-Saadi. They were last seen Wednesday morning leaving the reporter's Baghdad hotel.

Liberation's managing editor, Antoine de Gaudemar, said the pair did not appear to have been picked up by U.S. or Iraqi forces or been involved in an accident.

But other hypotheses "like kidnapping, are little by little taking on plausibility," even though there is still no solid confirmation of that, de Gaudemar wrote in an editorial published Monday.

A close relative of the translator, who refused to be identified in fear for his own safety, has said that Aubenas and al-Saadi were abducted in Baghdad near an entrance to the Green Zone, the fortified home of the U.S. Embassy and the interim Iraqi government.

The relative said he talked to an owner of a nearby restaurant in the Karradet Mariam neighborhood who claimed to have witnessed the abduction. He said a car pulled up next to the two and they were forced into the vehicle.

Neither French nor Iraqi authorities confirmed that claim. But the French prime minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, reiterated yesterday that France is mobilizing all means at its to disposal to find Aubenas.

Two other French reporters, Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot, were kidnapped by Islamic militants in Iraq and held captive for four months before their release Dec. 21.

Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said Sunday that French authorities are checking a report from "journalists who met armed men" that Aubenas and her translator were in good health. He did not elaborate.

In his editorial, de Gaudemar said the report was encouraging but was so fragmented and unverifiable that Liberation was treating it with "the greatest prudence."


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