Civilians are killed in Iraq

2 U.S.

Both worked for coalition

Kurdish officials report chief bomb-maker's arrest

March 11, 2004|By Alissa J. Rubin | Alissa J. Rubin,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Two U.S. citizens working for the Coalition Provisional Authority were gunned down along with their Iraqi interpreter in a tense area south of Baghdad, becoming the first civilians working for the U.S.-led administration to be killed in Iraq, a coalition official said yesterday.

On another front, Kurdish officials in Iraq said they had captured Ayyoub Afghani, reputed to be the chief bomb-maker for the militant group Ansar Al-Islam. The capture could yield important information about recent bombings, particularly in Kurdistan, Kurdish officials said.

Few details were available about the deaths of the two Americans and the Iraqi translator late Tuesday near Hillah, about 50 miles south of Baghdad.

"It's a great tragedy, and our hearts go out to the relatives of those killed," L. Paul Bremer III, the civilian administrator for Iraq, told Fox Television. His spokesman, Dan Senor, said Bremer had requested that an FBI team be deployed to lead the investigation.

Senor declined to provide details of the incident and cautioned against an account provided by the Polish authorities who lead the multinational team patrolling southern Iraq. The Poles reported that the Americans had been shot execution-style at a checkpoint by attackers disguised as Iraqi policemen.

"The facts are still coming out, and we're going to wait on the investigation," Senor said.

The names of the dead, both civilian employees of the Defense Department, were being withheld pending notification of relatives, Senor said.

Abbas Abdul Hussein, an Iraqi journalist who went to the scene of the shooting, said he saw the body of the Iraqi translator being carried away on a stretcher.

These were the first civilian coalition employees killed in the Iraqi conflict, Senor said. There are between 2,500 and 3,000 civilian employees working for the Coalition Provisional Authority. More than 500 U.S. soldiers have died. A uniformed U.S. officer attached to the coalition, Lt. Col. Charles Buehring, was killed last fall in a rocket attack on the Rasheed Hotel, where many coalition employees were living.

Questions are likely to emerge about the level of security the U.S. officials had and about what kind of vehicle they were using. Such officials are known to be targets of the insurgents and generally do not travel outside U.S.-guarded secure zones or bases without armed escorts.

The capture of Afghani, if confirmed, would be significant because the organization is believed to be reconstituting itself after attacks by U.S. and Kurdish forces on its main camp in Kurdistan last spring. Many of its fighters were killed and an estimated 300 others fled over the mountains to Iran.

"I can confirm he has been arrested," said Sarko Mahmoud, an official in Kurdistan's Foreign Relations Office. "It is very important that such a person, who spent a few years on the Iraq-Iran border and is responsible for some of the recent bombings in Kurdistan and elsewhere in the country, be arrested."

But U.S. military sources said they could not confirm the arrest.

Kurdish officials believe that Afghani's expertise is in making car bombs and suicide vests, and that one of his car bombs exploded March 22 as U.S. planes and cruise missiles were striking Ansar positions in northern Iraq. The bomb went off at a checkpoint in Girdy Gou as refugees were fleeing the region. Five people were killed.

Kurdish intelligence said after the war that authorities had found several cars loaded with explosives that Ansar had abandoned as it fled the U.S. and Kurdish attack. Afghani was also believed to be recruiting young would-be suicide bombers, and he was perfecting suicide bomb vests made out of yellow life preservers, at least one of which was seen by a Los Angeles Times journalist at an abandoned Ansar stronghold.

In the southern city of Nasiriyah, Iraqi police tried Tuesday night to enter a building where a Shiite Muslim militia was holding two civilians. Such militias sometimes help local police enforce the law, but they sometimes try to impose Islamic law.

The standoff ended when Italian security forces stormed the building, rescued the civilians and arrested eight militia members. Italian soldiers are responsible for Nasiriyah and the surrounding area.

In a separate incident near the Syrian border, news reports said gunmen killed two policemen and critically wounded a third.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.