Gunmen wearing police uniforms abducted the security team near Safwan, a largely Sunni Arab city of 200,000 people in southern Iraq. The attack took place shortly after the Westerners had crossed the Kuwaiti border with a large convoy of supply trucks.
The convoy was traveling on the Iraq Military Road, which is infrequently used by civilian vehicles. Sunni insurgents attack supply convoys on a daily basis, not only on the roads from Kuwait but also from Turkey in the north and Jordan in the west.
Convoys are heavily armed, but not heavily enough. They can be several dozen vehicles long and are often attacked in the middle, their weakest point, reports CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer.
Basra police Maj. Gen. Ali al-Moussawi refused to give details of the ransom demand late Friday after a series of confused and apparently incorrect reports that variously claimed the Austrian had been found dead and one of the Americans was gravely wounded. Another discounted report came from the Basra governor, who had said two Americans were freed and one hostage killed.
Al-Moussawi said police believed the five employees of the Crescent Security Co. were being held in the Safwan region along with trucks from the convoy.
Throughout the day, U.S. officials and the British military, which still has about 7,000 troops in the Basra region, said they had no information on the kidnapped men.
Click here to read Armen Keteyian's report on civilian contractors deployed in Iraq.
The confusion in reports from Iraqi officials apparently grew out of their having been unaware initially of a fresh incident on Friday involving a British security team that had been stopped by Iraqi customs police on the same road where the Crescent Security team was abducted.
In other developments:
Al-Moussawi said that as police checked the papers of the British security men in the lead vehicle, a car drove by at high speed and opened fire, killing one Briton and wounding a second in the car. British officials in Basra confirmed an incident involving security men but would provide no details.
The police major general speculated that Basra Gov. Mohammed al-Waili was not aware of that incident and had assumed the dead and wounded were from the group of five kidnapped the day before.