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Family frets as new tape shows captive in Iraq Anxious relatives worry over fate of Amherst native

Worried and frustrated family members spent time Wednesday watching and rewatching the latest videotape of Jonathon Cote, a 23-year-old Amherst native who was kidnapped in Iraq more than six weeks ago.

They said Cote appeared to be tired but in fairly good shape as he fidgeted, looked at the camera and said, "I can't be released until the prisoners from the American jails and the British jails are released."

Cote, an Army veteran who had been working in Iraq for a private security firm, was kidnapped Nov. 16. A videotape of Cote and four men abducted with him was delivered Wednesday to the Associated Press office in Baghdad.

"It was hard to watch. He looks tired. He looks like he needs a shave," Cote's stepmother told The Buffalo News. "This is very frustrating for us because all we can do is wait and pray.

"The [U.S. State Department] tells us they're doing all they can to bring the hostages back, but we really don't know what is being done."

She said her family members' deep religious faith enabled them to make it through the holidays, knowing that a loved one is held in a country that has been the scene of cruel, unrelenting violence for the past three years.

"Some people who know us can't believe that we're able to function, but our Christian faith is what keeps us sane," the Amherst woman said.

The Buffalo News and other Buffalo media have not published the names of family members because of their concerns about security.

The videotape obtained Wednesday by the AP is believed to have been shot Dec. 21 and 22, the dates digitally stamped on the images.

The men -- security contractors for the Crescent Security Group based in Kuwait -- appeared separately on the edited video, and three of them said they were being treated well. They were kidnapped when suspected militiamen in Iraqi police uniforms ambushed a truck convoy escorted by the Crescent Security Group on a highway near the southern border city of Safwan.

Safwan is a Sunni Arab city in a predominantly Shiite area. Whether the kidnappers were holding the contractors to put political pressure on American-led occupation forces and the U.S.-backed Iraqi government, or were seeking a ransom remained unclear. U.S.-led forces have conducted raids in an effort to rescue them.

Cote's stepmother said the videotape makes her think the five security workers are being held for political reasons, but she said the motive for the kidnapping remains a mystery.

Four of the captives were seen sitting alone, cross-legged on a carpet, with a black sheet hanging behind them. The video showed only the upper body of the fifth man, who identified himself as Paul Johnson Reuben of Buffalo, Minn., which is near Minneapolis. Reuben gave the date as Dec. 22 and said he wanted his family to know he was being treated well.

The video began with an image of a Quran and a map of Iraq over a green background, changing to a title that read, "The National Islamic Resistance in Iraq. The Furkan Brigades. The captivity operation was done in the Safwan district in Basra."

A man with a beard and a mustache identified himself as Bert Nussbaumer, an Austrian citizen working for Crescent Security.

Another captive identified himself as Josh Munz, 23, of Redding, Calif.

"I joined the Marine Corps in 2001, and I got out in 2005," Munz said on the video. "After I got out of the Marine Corps, I went to work in the construction business, building swimming pools. After that, in July of 2006, I started working for Crescent Security out of Kuwait."

Another video of the captives surfaced last week and was reported by McClatchy Newspapers. That video was believed to have been recorded two weeks after the men were kidnapped.

e-mail: dherbeck@buffnews.com

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