NEW YORK - Severed fingers of five Western contractors were sent to the US military in Iraq, giving the men's relatives hope that they are still alive, a brother of one of the missing men said.
The men were abducted in two separate incidents that occurred a month and a half apart in 2006 and 2007, a US government official said yesterday in Washington.
The Austrian weekly magazine News first reported the delivery of the five fingers in Wednesday's edition, citing unidentified authorities working on the case.
Patrick Reuben, a Minneapolis police officer whose twin brother, Paul, is among the missing, said late Wednesday the FBI told his family members that "the fingers were confirmed to be those of the hostages."
Patrick Reuben said the news of the severed fingers was shocking, but that the initial word the family got was "much more serious than that. Later on we found that it was fingers that were recovered and that the DNA confirmed it was the hostages."
Jackie Stewart learned from a reporter that her son's finger had been cut off, and the FBI confirmed it later that day, she said. "The fact that my son lost a finger is very disturbing," said Stewart, the mother of Joshua Munns. "But if they haven't killed him now, I seriously doubt they will, unless something tragic happens, something devastating."
Four of the men were guards for a convoy ambushed near the Kuwaiti border on Nov. 16, 2006. The fifth, Ronald J. Withrow, 40, of Lubbock, Texas, was a contractor working for JPI Worldwide and abducted on Jan. 5, 2007, near Basra.
In addition to Reuben, those abducted in the earlier incident were Jonathon Cote, 25, of Getzville, N.Y.; Munns, 25, of Redding, Calif.; and Bert Nussbaumer, 26, of Vienna, according to the US government official in Washington. The official spoke only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the matter.
They were working for Crescent Security Group, a Kuwait-based private security company.
A fifth hostage taken Nov. 16, 2006 was John Young, 45, of Lee's Summit, Mo. None of his fingers was sent to the US military.