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Minnesotan hopes to win freedom of 5 held in Iraq Buffalo native among seized contractors

A Minneapolis man has raised $150,000 he hopes to use as ransom to win the freedom of Buffalo native Jonathan Cote and four other security contractors who were kidnapped Nov. 16 in Iraq.

The contractors -- four Americans and one Australian -- were abducted in southern Iraq when their truck convoy was ambushed in Safwan. Mark Koscielski, a Minneapolis gun shop owner and friend of hostage Paul Reuben, calls his ransom plan "Save 5." Most of the funds were raised through T-shirt sales and independent donations through Koscielski's Web site --

Though Koscielski would not reveal details of the plan, he told The Buffalo News in a telephone interview that he and other family members of the contractors would release specifics of the plan during a news conference to be held in a Minneapolis suburb July 14.

Koscielski traveled to Kuwait in March in what he called "an independent intelligence-gathering trip" but was not allowed into Iraq. He said that during the trip he made various "contacts," leading him to believe he could free the men in exchange for the $150,000.

A Cote family source who asked not to be identified was supportive of Koscielski's effort.

"He wants to go in there and shake some bushes," said the source, who talks to Koscielski occasionally. "To our knowledge there has been no ransom demand made. But in the anticipation that there may be, this guy has developed a plan. At least he's trying to do something."

The source also said family members of the captives have received little response from the government about any rescue efforts being made.

"We have only talked to staff at [Sen. Hillary Rodham] Clinton's office," the source said. "We called [Rep. Brian] Higgins and [Sen. Charles] Schumer, too. They basically just said they would try to push efforts along. We saw Higgins say on television that he has access into Iraq and that he is willing to try and help with the release [of the American contractors] if the family wants him to do that. We say, 'Yes, go, because we can't. "

A 90-second video of the hostages was released in December, showing Cote, 23, of Gainesville, Fla., in good condition. Cote had slight bruising and swelling around his nose and red splotches on his face but spoke calmly on the recording.

The footage was shown to McClatchy Newspapers in Baghdad on the condition that the provider's name and details be withheld for security purposes. The provider told the newspaper they believed the men were being held by a little-known Shiite militant group that goes by the name, "Mujahedeen of Jerusalem Company."

Cote's family members have not heard from him since the videotape was released.


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