Raid frees American hostage in Iraq

Calif. man, who worked for Saudi company, taken prisoner 10 months ago

September 08, 2005|By Alex Rodriguez | Alex Rodriguez,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Coalition troops stormed a remote farmhouse near Baghdad yesterday and freed an American who was taken hostage 10 months ago; a roadside bomb in Basra detonated near a passing convoy, killing four American security contractors; and a blast in a restaurant district killed at least 13 Iraqis.

The rescue of Roy Hallums, 57, formerly of Newport Beach, Calif., was believed to be the first rescue of an American hostage by coalition forces since the toppling of Saddam Hussein in spring 2003. An unidentified Iraqi man held captive in the same farmhouse also was freed.

Hallums and five other men were kidnapped Nov. 1, 2004, by gunmen who shot their way into the guarded compound of Hallums' employer, a Saudi company supplying food to the Iraqi army. The other captives - a Filipino, a Nepalese and three Iraqis - were released earlier this year.

U.S. military spokeswoman Capt. Patricia Brewer said Hallums was receiving medical care and was in good condition.

In a statement released by the U.S. military last night, Hallums thanked "all those who were involved in my rescue - to those who continuously tracked my captors and location and to those who physically brought me freedom today."

Hallums became a hostage as a wave of kidnappings was sweeping across Baghdad. His abduction was the second in a six-week span in which Americans living or working in Baghdad's wealthy Mansour neighborhood were targeted.

Earlier that fall, Eugene Armstrong and Jack Hensley were held hostage for several days before their captors beheaded them. Kenneth Bigley, a British engineer abducted with Armstrong and Hensley, was beheaded later.

Armed with Kalashnikov rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, gunmen stormed the offices of Hallums' employer, the Saudi Arabian Trading and Construction Co., killing a company security guard. One of the gunmen was also killed in the firefight.

Yesterday's deaths of four American security contractors and the attack on the Basra restaurant came as violence in the city has risen sharply, after months of relative calm.

In the first attack, a makeshift bomb detonated as the U.S. convoy was traveling in the city in the morning, according to U.S. Embassy spokesman Peter Mitchell in Baghdad.

One vehicle fell off a bridge after the explosion, according to Lt. Col. Kareem Zoubaidi, a Basra police spokesman. Other cars in the convoy escaped undamaged, he said.

Three of the security contractors died at the scene and the fourth died after being taken to a nearby hospital. All four worked for a private security firm supporting the regional U.S. Embassy office in Basra. The names of the company and victims were not released.

Later, a remote-controlled car bomb detonated near a cluster of restaurants and shops in the city, killing 13 and wounding 20, according to 1st Lt. Sabah Mayahi of the Basra police. Many of the victims were patrons having a late dinner.

The blast set four other cars ablaze and one exploded, causing additional injuries.

"We all rushed to the site, but then the gas tank of one of the cars exploded," said Hassan Ahmed Radhi, 28, who was buying bread at a nearby store.

On Tuesday, two British soldiers were killed 12 miles south of Basra when their Land Rover hit a roadside bomb.

Also yesterday, an official with the special tribunal that will try former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein confirmed that Hussein had acknowledged ordering the killings of Kurds in the late 1980s, regarding the slayings as justified, the Associated Press reported.

Hussein's trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 19. The former Iraqi leader faces a long list of crimes-against-humanity charges, though his first trial will center on the 1982 crackdown on Shiites in the village of Dujail, 50 miles north of Baghdad, that led to the killings of 158 people.

Later, Hussein will face charges related to the 1987-1988 Anfal campaign, in which hundreds of thousands of Kurds were killed in northern Iraq, and the use of chemical weapons on Kurds in Halabja in 1988, which killed 5,000 people.

The Associated Press reported that during questioning by a tribunal official, Hussein said retribution against Kurds in northern Iraq was justified because they were helping Iran during the 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran war.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Los Angeles Times contributed to this article.

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