December 28, 2007 in Nation/World

Suspects in Iraq ambush arrested

Tina Susman Los Angeles Times
 

BAGHDAD – It was one of the more chilling attacks on U.S. troops: an ambush on an isolated highway that left four American soldiers and their Iraqi translator dead, and three Americans missing.

Seven months later, two of the soldiers have yet to be found, but on Thursday the military announced a break in the case that could reveal their fate. A U.S. military statement said two people had been arrested in Ramadi, about 60 miles from the scene of the May 12 attack.

Neither of the suspects was identified, but one is alleged to have used his home to hide the captured soldiers, the statement said. A weapon belonging to one of the captured men was found in the home of one of the suspects, the statement added.

Attempts to find the missing soldiers, Pvt. Byron W. Fouty, 19, of Waterford, Mich., and Spc. Alex R. Jimenez, 25, of Lawrence, Mass., have proved futile despite a massive dragnet in the wake of the attack in an agricultural village along the Euphrates River. Pfc. Joseph J. Anzack Jr., 20, of Torrance, Calif., also was abducted, but his body was discovered in the river 11 days after the ambush.

The four other U.S. troops died when their Humvees were attacked with grenades and gunfire by insurgents lying in wait in the dark.

A Sunni Muslim insurgent group linked to al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack and put out a video showing some of the soldiers’ dog tags. In July, the IDs of Fouty and Jimenez were found in a house north of Baghdad. In October, weapons belonging to some of the troops were found in a house a few miles north of the attack site.

The two soldiers are among four U.S. troops listed as missing since the start of the war in March 2003.

Also Thursday, there were conflicting accounts of a military raid in Kut, south of Baghdad. Representatives of the anti-U.S. Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr disputed American military assertions that its forces had killed “an estimated 11 terrorists” in the operation. A U.S. statement said those targeted were Shiite militiamen who have not adhered to a cease-fire that al-Sadr announced last August.

The statement said U.S. forces came under fire in Kut, about 100 miles southeast of the capital. The return fire led to the suspects’ deaths, it said.

But Sayid Jihad Maqsosi, speaking from the al-Sadr office in Kut, said those killed were “innocent, harmless people” who were asleep in their homes when U.S. forces raided the Jihad neighborhood. Maqsosi said four people were killed.

Maqsosi denied that anyone in the neighborhood remained active in militia activities and insisted that all were abiding by al-Sadr’s cease-fire. He disputed U.S. allegations that American troops were fired on, saying it was too cold for gunmen to be outside.

Police in Kut offered yet another version. They said U.S. forces began the raid shortly after midnight, acting on tips that a meeting of militia fighters was under way. The police said U.S. forces bombarded the house where the meeting was alleged to be going on, killing six suspected militiamen. Ten civilians were injured, according to the police.

The United States has praised al-Sadr for calling on his Mahdi Army militia to halt aggression but says it will continue to go after Shiite militia fighters who have not halted activities against U.S. forces and Iraqis.


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