Baghdad, Iraq Iraqi militants said Saturday they kidnapped two Turks and threatened to behead them within 48 hours, the latest in the country's unrelenting wave of abductions, even as efforts intensified to free seven truck drivers taken captive by other insurgents.
The Tawhid and Jihad group of Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi demanded the Turks' employers leave Iraq in a videotape aired on Al-Jazeera television, which showed three masked gunmen standing behind two seated men holding various forms of identification.
Al-Jazeera identified the men as two Turkish truck drivers working for a Turkish company delivering goods to U.S. forces in Iraq. The network said the militants threatened to decapitate the men if their demands were not met.
Militants loyal to al-Zarqawi have claimed responsibility for a number of bloody attacks and beheadings of previous foreign hostages, including U.S. businessman Nicholas Berg, South Korean translator Kim Sun-il and Bulgarian truck driver Georgi Lazov.
Mediators and officials expressed optimism Saturday for the release of seven hostages -- three Indians, three Kenyans and an Egyptian -- held since July 21. An official from the drivers' Kuwait employer met tribal leaders acting as mediators to craft an offer to their captors, and India sent its ambassador to Oman, Talmiz Ahmed, to Iraq to help in the negotiations.
U.S. death toll
As of Friday, July 30, 909 U.S. service members have died since the beginning of military operations in Iraq in March 2003, according to the Defense Department. Of those, 674 died as a result of hostile action and 235 died of nonhostile causes. The department did not provide an update Saturday.