BAGHDAD, Oct 24 (Reuters) A U S soldier who went missing yesterday was kidnapped by masked gunmen while visiting a relative's house in Baghdad outside the heavily-fortified Green Zone compound, the U S military said today.
It said the soldier, a linguist assigned to a reconstruction team, was handcuffed and forced into a vehicle.
The soldier was reported missing yesterday and was last seen the same afternoon at the Green Zone, which houses government offices, foreign embassies and U S military forces.
The soldier was not named but a U S Army official in Washington said the man was an American citizen of Iraqi descent.
''He was reportedly at a relative's house at the time of the abduction when three cars pulled up to the residence. The men, who were described to have dark colored rags over their noses and mouths, handcuffed the soldier and forced him into one of the vehicles,'' the military said in a statement.
It said the kidnappers had contacted the soldier's relatives using his cellphone.
The statement did not make clear whether his superiors had authorised his visit outside the Green Zone. This week marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, which Muslims celebrate in family gatherings over the Eid holiday.
U S forces working with Iraqi police launched an intensive search in the Iraqi capital, including with unmanned drones.
''We will leverage all available Coalition resources to find this soldier,'' Major General James Thurman, commander of the Multi-National Division Baghdad force, was quoted as saying.
The search has revived memories of the kidnapping in June of two U S soldiers near Yusufiya, an al Qaeda stronghold south of Baghdad, in an ambush in which another soldier was killed. Their bodies were later found badly mutilated.
October is already the deadliest month since November 2005 for U S troops in Iraq, with 90 killed, boosting domestic pressure on President George W Bush before congressional elections on November 7.
REUTERS AB KP2332