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Student May Be Kidnapped in West Bank

October 11, 2006

NABLUS, West Bank (AP) _ An American student teaching in West Bank refugee camps was reported missing Wednesday, and his project manager said he had been kidnapped.

A blurred photocopy of a passport and student card carrying the name Michael Leighton Phillips was sent to a foreign news agency by a group calling itself Ansar al-Sunna. Palestinian security said they did not know of such a group and could not confirmed that the American had been abducted. Groups by that name operate in Iraq and Lebanon.

Samah Atout, manager of Project Hope, said she received a call saying Phillips had been kidnapped. She refused to give further details.

An American consulate official said that Phillips was missing but could not confirm that he was kidnapped. The official was speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.

Alaa Sanakreh of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a violent group linked to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah Party, denounced the incident. ``We have no hand in this, and if it is true that he was kidnapped, it will harm the Palestinian people,″ he said, adding that his group is helping Palestinian police look for Phillips.

Atout said Phillips was working with Project Hope in refugee camps near the West Bank city of Nablus, teaching English. She said Phillips, 24, came from Los Angeles and lived alone in a Nablus neighborhood.

Project Hope, based in Canada, describes itself as a nonprofit volunteer organization that provides educational and recreational activities, medical and humanitarian relief and practical training.

Foreigners have been kidnapped and held briefly in Nablus in the past, then released unharmed. The most recent case was in February, during the storm over the Danish caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, when a German volunteer was abducted and held for several hours.

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