Seattle Times 1/27/07
Americans ‘were abducted and executed’ in Karbala
The operation was well rehearsed, says military
Four of five US soldiers killed in a raid by militants last week in Iraq’s shrine city of Karbala were abducted and executed by men wearing “American-looking uniforms”, the military revealed yesterday.
The grim details of the January 20 attack were released for the first time by the US military.
A US military statement said the Karbala raid had been “well rehearsed”, with gunmen getting past Iraqi checkpoints in “a convoy consisting of at least five sport utility vehicles”.
One soldier was killed in the initial assault while four others were shot dead after being kidnapped by the insurgents, who fled with them in the SUVs.
Iraqi police later found the vehicles near the town of Al Mahawil, east of Karbala.
“Two soldiers were found handcuffed together in the back of one of the SUVs. Both had suffered gunshot wounds and were dead. A third soldier was found shot and dead on the ground,” the statement said.
“Nearby, the fourth soldier was still alive, despite a gunshot wound to the head.” He was rushed to a nearby hospital but died on the way.
In an initial statement released on January 21, the military had said five US soldiers were killed and three wounded “while repelling the attack”.
The internet site icasualties.org, which tracks US losses in Iraq, identified the five as Captain Brian Freeman, Lieutenant Jacob Fritz, Specialist Jonathan Chism, Private 1st Class Jonathan Millican and Private Shawn Falter.
Yesterday’s statement said “an estimated nine to 12 armed militants” with US-type weapons had stormed the Provincial Joint Coordination Centre in Karbala, where they opened fire and hurled hand grenades at US troops.
After damaging three US vehicles with explosives, “the attackers broke off the assault, withdrawing from the compound with four captured US soldiers.
“The precision of the attack, the equipment used and the possible use of explosives to destroy the military vehicles in the compound suggests that the attack was well rehearsed prior to execution,” US spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Scott Bleichwehl said in the statement.
“The attackers went straight to where Americans were located in the provincial government facility, bypassing the Iraqi police in the compound,” Bleichwehl said.
“We are looking at all the evidence to determine who or what was responsible for the breakdown in security at the compound and the perpetration of the assault.”
U.S. now says 4 soldiers seized, executed
REPORTERS QUESTIONED ACCOUNTTHAT TROOPS DIED IN ASSAULT Gunmen spoke English, got through checkpoint
BY LEILA FADEL McClatchy Newspapers
KARBALA, Iraq – Four American soldiers whom the U.S. military originally reported were killed when unknown gunmen stormed an Iraqi provincial office in Karbala last Saturday were, in fact, taken hostage and later executed, military officials said Friday.
The abducted soldiers, shot in the head, were discovered when five Chevrolet Suburbans used in the attack were found abandoned, their doors open, in the town of Mahawil hours after the attack. Mahawil is about 25 miles from Karbala.
Military officials offered no explanation for why the men originally were reported as having died “repelling the attack.” The Pentagon named the men in a news release Tuesday and said they had died “from wounds sustained when their patrol was ambushed while conducting dismounted operations.”
Sources confirmed that the attackers spoke English and posed as Americans to pass through Iraqi security in one of the most sophisticated operations against U.S. soldiers since the Iraq war began in 2003.
News of the security breakdown, kidnappings and slayings leaked just as President Bush faces stiffening congressional opposition over his plan to flood Baghdad and surrounding regions with 21,500 more U.S. troops.
Lt. Col. Todd Vician, a Pentagon spokesman, said the Pentagon news release was “based on information provided by the Army.” Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, the U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, didn’t respond to e-mails and phone calls seeking an explanation.
The inaccurate accounts of how the four men died recalled the controversy surrounding the death of former NFL player Pat Tillman, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2004. The Pentagon initially said Tillman had been killed by Taliban insurgents. Only later did they say that he had been shot by fellow U.S. soldiers.
It was unknown Friday what families of the abducted servicemen had been told about their deaths. Efforts to contact the families were unsuccessful.
U.S. officials have been largely silent about the circumstances of last Saturday’s raid in which gunmen slipped unchallenged past checkpoints manned by Iraqi soldiers and stormed a government compound where American officials were meeting with local Iraqi counterparts.
A statement Friday quoting Bleichwehl on details of the abductions and executions was released only after The Associated Press distributed a story quoting Iraqi police officials and two unnamed U.S. officials.
Iraqi police officials have portrayed the raid as a major breach of security. A police official in Hilla, a city adjacent to Mahawil, said Monday that one of the vehicles used in the attack carried a license plate stolen from a car of Iraq’s minister of trade.
One Iraqi official said the leader of the assault team had blond hair, but no other official confirmed that.
They apparently were well enough informed about the compound, known as the Provincial Joint Coordination Center, that they went directly to where the Americans were in the compound, attacking with a barrage of grenades and rifle fire. Three Humvees were destroyed.
“The precision of the attack, the equipment used and the possible use of explosives to destroy the military vehicles in the compound suggests that the attack was well-rehearsed prior to execution,” Bleichwehl was quoted as saying. “The attackers went straight to where Americans were located in the provincial government facility, by-passing the Iraqi police in the compound.”
A senior Iraqi military official said the sophistication of the attack led him to believe it was the work of Iranian intelligence agents in conjunction with anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia, which Iran funds, arms and trains.
At the main building, soldiers heard the explosions and tried to defend themselves. One grenade was tossed into the command center where the provincial police chief’s office is housed, killing one soldier and wounding three, the statement said. After about 15 minutes, the gunmen snatched four soldiers and fled toward Babel province. As they passed a checkpoint into the province, police grew suspicious and gave chase.
They found the five abandoned vehicles, doors still open, near Mahawil, east of the Euphrates River. Inside one vehicle two soldiers were handcurity cuffed together and shot in the head. A third soldier, also shot in the head, was found sprawled on the ground. A fourth soldier was found wounded and died as Iraqi police took him to a hospital, the statement said.
The U.S. statement Friday did not say who was suspected in the attack. A guard at the coordination center told McClatchy Newspapers that all the guards there are now under investigation.
The guard, who asked not to be identified because he also is a suspect, said he had handed his weapon to the attackers and allowed the men into the compound because they were dressed in U.S. uniforms, spoke English and were using interpreters. He said it was customary not to challenge Americans.
Babel police spokesman Capt. Muthana Ahmed said Monday that the attackers had first gathered weapons at the police headquarters in Karbala before attacking the provincial compound. U.S. Humvees now are stationed at the police headquarters, and Iraqi police commandos are providing security at both the police headquarters and the provincial headquarters.
Hilla police chief Maj. Gen. Qais al-Maamuri said five vehicles used in the attack were found Saturday and two vehicles were found Sunday.
Al-Maamuri said one of the vehicles bore a license plate registered to Iraq’s minister of trade, Abdul Falah al-Sudani, a Shiite who belongs to the Dawa party whose members include Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. A spokesman for al-Sudani, who lives in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, denied that the plate had been stolen.
Al-Maamuri also said police do not know how the attackers obtained military uniforms or IDs, but said that ownership documents had been found in two of the vehicles. He said the cars had come to Karbala along the road leading from Najaf, where al-Sadr is headquartered, and were unchallenged until they entered Babel province.
Inquiries reveal soldiers wereshot after attack
Four U.S. soldiers were abducted in Karbala last Saturday, and killed elsewhere, contrary to reports they repelled attackers. Nine to 12 militants in Chevrolet Suburban vehicles, the type used in U.S. convoys, attacked the compound while wearing U.S. military fatigues, carrying U.S. weapons and speaking English.
Dallas Morning news
Lost in a brazen attack
U.S. initially said soldiers died repelling gunmenin Iraq, but details of abduction emerge
From Wire Reports
BAGHDAD, Iraq — In perhaps the boldest and most sophisticated attack in four years of warfare, gunmen speaking English, wearing U.S. military uniforms and carrying American weapons abducted four U.S. soldiers last week at the provincial headquarters in the Shiite holy city of Karbala and then shot them to death.
The U.S. military confirmed a report earlier Friday by The Associated Press that three of the soldiers were dead and one was mortally wounded with a gunshot to the head when they were found in a neighboring province, about 25 miles from the compound where they were captured. A fifth soldier was killed in the initial attack on the compound.The new account contradicted a U.S. military statement last Saturday, the day of the raid on an Iraqi governor’s office, that five soldiers were killed repelling the attack.The security breakdown and the dramatic kidnapping and murder of four soldiers leaked out just as President Bush faces stiffening congressional opposition over his plan to flood Baghdad and surrounding regions with with 21,500 more American troops. Two of Congress's most vocal war critics, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. John Murtha, were in the Iraqi capital as the news broke. 1st Lt. Jacob Fritz of Verdon, Neb., 'always wanted to be in the military,' a friend said. In a statement issued late Friday, the military said two of the soldiers were handcuffed together in the back seat of an SUV near the southern Iraqi town of Mahawil. A third dead soldier was on the ground nearby. The fourth soldier died on the way to the hospital. The four were identified as 1st Lt. Jacob Fritz, 25, of Verdon, Neb.; Spc. Johnathan Chism, 22, of Prairieville, La.; Pfc. Shawn Falter, 25, of Homer, N.Y., and Pvt. Johnathon Millican, 20, of Trafford, Ala. All were with the 2nd Battalion, 377th Parachute Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, of Fort Richardson, Alaska. Capt. Brian S. Freeman, 31, of Temecula, Calif., "died of wounds suffered when his meeting area came under attack by mortar and small arms fire." Spc. Johnathan Chism of Prairieville, La., 'liked anybody and everybody,' his mom said. The brazen assault, 50 miles south of Baghdad, was conducted by nine to 12 gunmen posing as an American security team, the military confirmed. The attackers traveled in black GMC Suburban vehicles – the type used by U.S. government convoys – had American weapons, wore new U.S. military combat fatigues and spoke English, according to two senior U.S. military officials as well as Iraqi officials. None of the American or Iraqi officials would allow use of their names because of the sensitive nature of the information. The confirmation came after nearly a week of inquiries. The U.S. military in Baghdad initially did not respond to repeated requests for comment on reports that began emerging from Iraqi government and military officials on the abduction and a major breakdown in security at the Karbala site. Pfc. Shawn Falter of Homer, N.Y., followed three of his older brothers into the Army. Within hours of the AP report that four of the five dead soldiers had been abducted and found dead or dying about 25 miles east of Karbala, the military issued a long account of what took place. "The precision of the attack, the equipment used and the possible use of explosives to destroy the military vehicles in the compound suggests that the attack was well rehearsed prior to execution," said Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, spokesman for Multi-National Division Baghdad. "The attackers went straight to where Americans were located in the provincial government facility, bypassing the Iraqi police in the compound," he said. "We are looking at all the evidence to determine who or what was responsible for the breakdown in security at the compound and the perpetration of the assault." The Karbala raid, as explained by the Iraqi and American officials, began after nightfall on Jan. 20, while American military officers were meeting with their Iraqi counterparts on the main floor of the Provisional Joint Coordination Center in Karbala. Iraqi officials said the approaching convoy of black GMC Suburbans was waved through an Iraqi checkpoint at the edge of the city. The Iraqi soldiers believed it to be American because of the type of vehicles, the distinctive camouflage American uniforms and the fact that they spoke English. One Iraqi official said the leader of the assault team was blond, but no other official confirmed that. A top Iraqi security official for Karbala province told the AP that the Iraqi guards at the checkpoint radioed ahead to the governor's compound to alert their compatriots that the convoy was on its way.Iraqi officials said the attackers' convoy divided upon arrival, with some vehicles parking at the back of the main building where the meeting was taking place, and others parking in front.
The attackers threw a grenade and opened fire with automatic rifles as they grabbed two soldiers inside the compound. Then the guerrilla assault team jumped on top of an armored U.S. Humvee and captured two more soldiers, the U.S. military officials said. In its statement, the U.S. military said one soldier was killed and three were wounded by a "hand grenade thrown into the center's main office which contains the provincial police chief's office on an upper floor." The attackers seized four soldiers and an unclassified U.S. military computer and fled with them east toward Mahawil in Babil province, crossing the Euphrates River, the U.S. military officials said. The Iraqi officials said the four were captured alive and shot just before the vehicles were abandoned. Police, who became suspicious when the convoy of attackers and their American captives did not stop at a roadblock, chased the vehicles and found the bodies, the gear and the abandoned SUVs.The military statement said: "Two soldiers were found handcuffed together in the back of one of the SUVs. Both had suffered gunshot wounds and were dead. A third soldier was found shot and dead on the ground. Nearby, the fourth soldier was still alive, despite a gunshot wound to the head." The wounded soldier was rushed to the hospital by Iraqi police but died on the way, the military said. The military also said Iraqi police had found five SUVs, U.S. Army-type combat uniforms, boots, radios and a non-U.S. made rifle at the scene. Three days after the killings, the U.S. military in Baghdad announced the arrest of four suspects in the attack and said they were detained on a tip from a Karbala resident. No further information was released about the suspects
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