Captive's fate in Iraq uncertain
JAMESTOWN, N.D. - Residents here are taking a wait-and-see approach to news from an insurgent terrorist group that claims it killed a native son. Families and U.S.
JAMESTOWN, N.D. - Residents here are taking a wait-and-see approach to news from an insurgent terrorist group that claims it killed a native son.
Families and U.S. officials said they haven't confirmed Ronald Schulz's execution by the Islamic Army of Iraq, as a video circulating on the Internet stated Monday.
The video shows the killing of a person bound and kneeling on the ground, accompanied by a picture of Schulz's passport and a video released two weeks ago that showed him being held hostage.
An Arabic message stating, "The execution of the American security counselor of the Iraqi housing ministry," is written beneath the video.
The person executed was wearing blue jeans and a dark jacket. However, the person's face was covered with cloth and the camera was positioned from behind.
The video also shows someone with a gun standing behind the hostage and several rounds fired.
Last week, the group said it killed Schulz, 40, and would later release the video. After abducting Schulz, the Islamic Army of Iraq demanded the release of Iraqi prisoners.
U.S. State Department officials and North Dakota's congressional delegation said Monday there's been no confirmation that the person executed in the video is Schulz.
"We've been working closely with Iraqi authorities, but we don't have much information," said Edgar Vasquez, a spokesman for the State Department. He said they didn't know Schulz's location.
Schulz, a former Marine who grew up in Jamestown, was captured Nov. 25 by the insurgent group while working in the country as an industrial electrician, his sister, Julie Schulz, said previously.
Family members declined interviews Monday.
"Not today. It's been a difficult day," Julie Schulz said. "Nothing has been confirmed."
Jamestown residents John and Janet Kubenski heard about the video on TV. The retired couple have been following the story, but didn't know until Monday that he was the nephew of their next-door neighbors of 25 years.
"It hurts," John Kubenski said. "He's not only American; he's got ties right here in the neighborhood."
Kubenski, a 63-year-old Army veteran, said he doesn't support the way President Bush went to war in Iraq, and he criticized the war effort since then. But that didn't minimize his disdain for the people suspected of killing Schulz.
"It's pathetic that they've got to grab people who are trying to help," Kubenski said. "It's hard to understand the concept, the mindset of those people. It doesn't make a bit of sense."
Others in this town of 15,500 residents said they would hold out hope until they heard an official confirmation about the video.
"In the meantime, all we can do is continue the vigil and hope and pray he's going to be okay," said Mayor Charlie Kourajian.
Kourajian hasn't been in close contact with Schulz's family, but he attended prayer services last week at St. John's Lutheran Church for his safe return.
"It must be terrible for the family," Kourajian said. "It just isn't human to do those things. But they are happening, and they're happening close to home."
Jim Nayes, one of Schulz's high school teachers, said the news Monday didn't change how he's felt since the first contested reports of his friend's execution.
"We can just hope," Nayes said.
The State Department said the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has kept contact with Schulz's family during the ordeal. Vasquez said he couldn't confirm if attempts to rescue Schulz were made.
"Every case is different. If we have knowledge of their whereabouts, appropriate measures will be taken," he said.
Vasquez referred other questions to the embassy in Baghdad. A message requesting comment was not returned Monday.
The state's congressional delegation said they are waiting to learn more from the State Department.
"These latest, deeply disturbing developments do not conclusively answer questions about the fate of Ron Schulz," Rep. Earl Pomeroy said.
"All of us still hope and pray that this might have a positive outcome," Sen. Byron Dorgan said.
Schulz was on his second stint in Iraq when he was captured. He worked there for 13 months, starting in July 2004, before returning to his Alaska home. Family members said they didn't know he returned to Iraq until hearing news of his capture.
Al-Jazeera television aired a video Dec. 6 by the Islamic Army in Iraq, which said it would kill Schulz within 48 hours unless the U.S. released Iraqi prisoners.
Julie Schulz and her brother, Ed Schulz, pleaded for his safe return during a news conference two days later.
The following day, on Dec. 9, the State Department confirmed Schulz's captivity before the group said it had killed him.
"If the reports are true, it is an absolute outrage," Sen. Kent Conrad said in a statement. "The perpetrators of this despicable act deserve and will receive the condemnation of the entire civilized world. They must be hunted down and held to account."
Readers can reach Forum reporters Dave Forster at (701) 241-5538 and Steven P. Wagner at (701) 241-5542