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Iraqi extremist group says it released American in prisoner swap

An undated family photo shows Issa Salomi (left) and his family. The Iraqi-American contractor was kidnapped Jan. 23. An undated family photo shows Issa Salomi (left) and his family. The Iraqi-American contractor was kidnapped Jan. 23. (Vivan Tilley Family Photo via Associated Press)
Associated Press / March 29, 2010

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SAN DIEGO — As the family of a captured Iraqi-American contractor in Iraq prepared to welcome him home, an extremist group issued a statement yesterday indicating that Issa Salomi’s release came in exchange for the release by the Iraqi government of four of its members.

The Shi’ite group claimed responsibility for the Jan. 23 kidnapping of Salomi and posted a video online that showed a man wearing military fatigues, reading a list demands for the release of militants, the prosecution of Blackwater guards, and an immediate US troop withdrawal.

Asaib Ahl al-Haq, known in English as the League of the Righteous, said four of its members were freed “in response to our demands following the capture of the American officer,’’ a reference to Salomi, who was not identified by name. The statement was posted on a website commonly used by the group.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said that he had “no information that anyone was released in return’’ for Salomi.

Salomi’s first call home was to his 27-year-old son, Roger. He said memories of the birth of the oldest of his four boys and his sons’ childhood sustained him after he was kidnapped in Baghdad in January.

A few hours later, the Iraqi-American contractor called his wife of 30 years, Muna, and asked for her homemade tabbouleh when he arrived home.

The Pentagon said Saturday that Salomi was back under US military control but gave no details on his disappearance or return. The family says he is expected to arrive at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio within a week.