Al-Qaeda claims to have taken two US soldiers hostage

A GROUP linked to al-Qaeda has abducted two US soldiers south of Baghdad, according to a statement posted on the internet yesterday. The US military said it was taking the announcement seriously, but added that it did not have any proof that it was authentic.

The al-Qaeda message came as 8,000 US and Iraqi forces searched for the US privates, who went missing on Friday after an attack on a checkpoint that killed another soldier.

The missing men are Thomas Lowell Tucker, 25, from Oregon and Kristian Menchaca, 23, from Texas.

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The Mujahideen Shura Council also claimed that it was holding four Russian "diplomats" hostage in Iraq and gave Moscow 48 hours to pull out from Chechnya and free Muslim prisoners.

Meanwhile, it emerged last night that the US Army has charged three soldiers in connection with the deaths of three Iraqi men who were in military custody in early May.

They face charges including murder, attempted murder, conspiracy, communicating a threat and obstructing justice.

And in Italy, prosecutors want a US soldier indicted following the shooting of an Italian intelligence agent last year.

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