An unidentified American man claims that he was recently released for humanitarian reasons after being held captive by an Iraqi militia group.
An armed group loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr freed a man it said was an American citizen in Baghdad on Saturday after holding him captive for nine months, according to reports from the Iraqi capital.
The man, now confirmed as being in the custody of the U.S. Embassy, earlier appeared on Iraq’s Bagdadiya television flanked by lawmakers from the Shiite cleric's and described himself as a former member of the U.S. military who was seized in June 2011 after he returned to Iraq as a civilian, Reuters reported.
“I was taken inside Baghdad and have been kept in and around different locations within the city by al-Maoud," he said, wearing a military uniform without insignia. "It was explained to me that my release has been for humanitarian reasons and that there was no exchange involved.''
U.N. spokeswoman Radhia Achouri says the man was handed over Saturday night and was at the U.N. compound in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.
"Deputy Speaker of the Council of Representatives, Mr. Quasay Al-Suhail and Member of Parliament, Mrs. Maha Al-Douri handed over... the American citizen whom they said has been in detention for about nine months by an Iraqi armed faction," Achouri said in a statement. The UN mission "is currently in contact with the US Embassy in Baghdad to follow up on the matter."
In an interview with The Associated Press, senior Sadrist official Abdul Hadi al-Mutairi said the man was a U.S. soldier who was captured June 18, but a U.S. military official told NBC News there are no remaining US military hostages in Iraq.
A spokesman for the U.S. embassy could not confirm the man's identity, AP reported.
NBC confirmed that the man has since been handed over to U.S. officials at the embassy.
Al-Mutairi said the man was released without any negotiation "as a goodwill initiative toward the American society and to (his) family," according the the AP report. He also told AP the man is married and has two sons, and was treated well during his captivity, despite his military past.
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NBC News chief Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.