June 15, 2007 / 12:30 AM / 11 years ago

Brazil engineer seized in Iraq is dead

BRASILIA (Reuters) - A Brazilian engineer who was kidnapped in Iraq in 2005 while working on a reconstruction project has been confirmed dead, the government said on Thursday.

The remains of Joao Jose Vasconcellos were identified and the body has been sent home, a Foreign Ministry statement said.

The ministry said the body had been identified through forensic tests but gave no further details.

“God wanted this way. It’s very painful,” Karla Vasconcellos, Joao Jose’s sister, told the Globo TV network. “It’s very sad but we will endure.”

More than 200 foreigners and thousands of Iraqis have been kidnapped since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. At least 60 foreign hostages have been killed.

The incident hit a nerve in Brazil, where many people were critical of the invasion of Iraq. The Latin American nation had been shocked earlier when Brazilian Sergio Vieira de Mello, the senior U.N. envoy in Iraq, was killed in a bomb attack on the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad in August 2003.

Vasconcellos worked for the Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht repairing a power plant near the central Iraqi city of Baiji. He was kidnapped on January 19, 2005, on the way to Baghdad airport to fly back to Brazil after his convoy was attacked.

Early reports said a group calling itself the Al Mujahideen Squadrons claimed responsibility for the ambush.

The father of three was 50 at the time of his abduction.

Government officials, relatives, members of Brazil’s Arab and Islamic communities, as well as sports stars and other celebrities, had made appeals for Vasconcellos’ freedom.

They included soccer star Ronaldo, who at the time played for Real Madrid, whose appeal was broadcast by Arab-language television stations Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya.

Vasconcellos had worked for more than 20 years at Odebrecht.

“Odebrecht is deeply sorry about the sad outcome of the disappearance of our dear friend Vasconcellos,” the construction company said in a statement.

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