BAGHDAD — A kidnapped American subcontractor was identified Wednesday after he was shown on Arabic-language satellite TV pleading for his life, on a day in which bomb blasts killed 16 Iraqis.
Al Jazeera news channel aired a videotape of a man who U.S. officials confirmed was Jeffrey Ake, 47, of La Porte, Ind. He was shown sitting between three armed, masked men.
Ake, chief executive of a mid-size manufacturer of water-bottling machines, was kidnapped Monday while visiting a factory in northern Baghdad, a source who was familiar with the incident said.
Ake held up what appeared to be a picture of his family and, according to the television announcer, asked U.S. officials to save his life by withdrawing American troops from Iraq.
Ake made his entreaty on a day when explosions rocked the cities of Kirkuk and Baghdad.
Iraqis guarding an oil pipeline in Kirkuk were attempting to defuse a bomb when it exploded, killing at least 11 members of the Facilities Protection Service. Dr. Mohammed Bakir of Kirkuk General Hospital said eight people were injured.
"After we were sure that we had defused the bomb that was planted under the pipe in the Bajawan district, most of the FPS members gathered to celebrate," said a guard who was injured in the blast. "Some of us even started to dance. But then a mistake occurred when our explosive expert did not know what cord to cut. That's when the bomb exploded."
In Baghdad, a suicide bomber killed five Iraqis and injured four U.S. contract workers when he drove his car into an American convoy traveling the airport road, perhaps the most dangerous thoroughfare in the capital. A bomb in eastern Baghdad destroyed an American fuel tanker truck. No one died in that assault, fire rescuer Hussein Jadooh said.
The Defense Department also announced that a U.S. Army soldier was killed Tuesday during a gun battle in the western city of Ramadi. The soldier's name was withheld pending notification of his family.
This morning, Baghdad was rocked by two more explosions in the Karada district. The blasts, about 200 yards apart, engulfed several cars, but few details were known immediately afterward. It was unclear whether anyone was injured or what the target was.
Wednesday's violence followed optimistic statements from Iraqi security officials earlier in the day. In the morning, the government touted its success against insurgents' bombs, saying Iraqi security forces had defused 74% of the explosive devices targeting them. It did not make clear how it had arrived at the figure.
Iraqi army Gen. Faisal Qassum Qussai appeared on an Iraqi news broadcast promising to solve Baghdad's security situation within a month.
The day's violence overshadowed the second visit to Iraq by a top U.S. bureaucrat in two days. Following on the heels of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick met with political leaders and visited Fallouja, the site of a U.S.-led military offensive in the fall.
Large swaths of the city were leveled in the fighting.
"It was a wonderful opportunity to see a city coming back to life, in part, through a town council, which just took office at the beginning of April," Zoellick said.
The visit, he added, gave him "a sense of the Iraqi people determining their own destiny."
However, members of the interim council told Zoellick of their frustration with how long it was taking to reimburse residents for damage to their homes, Associated Press reported. They also complained of unsafe drinking water, an inadequate sewer system and not enough jobs.
Meanwhile, details emerged Wednesday about the kidnapping of Ake.
The businessman is a subcontractor for a Swiss water-purification company and had been visiting a bottling plant in a northern Baghdad suburb, according to the source, who requested anonymity.
"He was on site Monday and two cars pull up, eight hooded men carrying heavy rifles emerged from the car, quickly overwhelmed his security -- which was less than robust -- found him, grabbed him ... threw him in the car and sped off," the source said.
The video shows three kidnappers standing over Ake, who is seated behind a desk. He is holding what appears to be his passport in his left hand and a picture of his family in his right. There are two soda cans on the desk, and one of the kidnappers is wearing an ammunition belt.
The group calls itself the Iraqi National Resistance, the source said.
Ake, a married father of four, started Equipment Express in his garage. Today, the privately held business is based in Rolling Prairie, Ind. It employs 30 people and has annual revenue of more than $100 million.
On Wednesday, residents in La Porte, a town of 22,000 about 90 minutes southeast of Chicago, expressed shock at the news. A person who answered the Ake family's phone said only that the family was praying.
La Porte officials said the community would hold a candlelight vigil this week.
"People are walking around here in a daze," said Michael Seitz, president of the Greater La Porte Chamber of Commerce. "Jeff and his family have been in this community all their lives. Everyone is hoping and praying he will come home."
Times staff writer P.J. Huffstutter in Chicago, special correspondent Ali Windawi in Kirkuk and a special correspondent in Baghdad contributed to this report.