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Iraqi hostage's family here lives on hope

Two hundred forty-five agonizing days. That's how long Francis L. Cote of Getzville has been waiting for word about his son, Jonathon Cote, who has been in the hands of Iraqi kidnappers since last Nov. 16.

"We continue to live on hope," said the elder Cote, a consultant to a computer company. "We pray and we have faith that God will bring Jon and the other guys home."

But the elder Cote is doing more than just hoping and praying.

He is working on a Web site -- freecote.com -- that will soon include information about his son's abduction. He also has organized weekly telephone conference calls among the U.S. State Department, his family and family members of three other Americans who were kidnapped with Jonathon Cote.

Francis Cote also is urging people all over the United States to write, call or e-mail government officeholders to push for stronger efforts to rescue the hostages.

"There's never enough attention drawn to what is happening with these hostages," Cote told The Buffalo News on Monday.

Jonathon Cote, who passed his 24th birthday while in captivity in February, is an Iraq War Army veteran. He was abducted in southern Iraq with three other American veterans and an Austrian man. The victims were working for a private security company, guarding a convoy of trucks making a delivery for the Italian army.

Frustrations over a lack of progress on efforts to find the hostages led to a weekend news conference in Richfield, Minn. The conference was organized by Mark Koscielski, a Minneapolis gun shop owner who feels the U.S. government should be doing much more to free the hostages.

Koscielski is especially critical of the FBI, which has been working with authorities in Iraq to find the hostages. He said he has developed informants in Iraq who could help in the search, but he said the FBI and other government agencies do not seem interested in his information.

In a telephone interview Monday, Koscielski said he has raised $150,000 to pay as a ransom for the hostages' release. He also went to the Middle East in March to conduct his own investigation into the abductions.

"Every time we have a door that is open to go through, the FBI slams it shut," said Koscielski, a friend of Paul Reuben, a Minnesota man who was taken hostage with Cote. "There's been more than one opportunity when they could've gotten these guys."

Francis Cote said he is frustrated with the federal government over its failure to find the hostages, but he is not a supporter of Koscielski's efforts.

"I feel the government is making a sincere effort. It's just very frustrating that it hasn't produced results," the elder Cote said. "[Koscielski] has like a cowboy attitude in looking at all this. I worry that he might endanger the guys and break down the support that we have from the government . . . He's a gadfly."

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., recently said that 11 teams of investigators are searching in the Middle East for the hostages. He said he checks on the search efforts once a week.

According to Francis Cote, the U.S. government is now working on a plan to distribute thousands of leaflets in southern Iraq, imploring the Iraqi people to provide information about the hostages.

Koscielski runs a Web site detailing his views on the search for the hostages, with a Web address of www.save5.net.

Koscielski is urging friends and supporters of the hostages to push elected officials into pressuring federal agencies into finding the hostages.

"[Government] should be doing a lot more," Koscielski said.

e-mail: dherbeck@buffnews.com

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