Iraq arrests seen as break in case of 2 missing US soldiers

Suspect's house, recovered weapon may be tied to fate

An ambush left Alex R. Jimenez, 25, of Lawrence, Mass., missing. An ambush left Alex R. Jimenez, 25, of Lawrence, Mass., missing.
Email|Print| Text size + By Tina Susman
Los Angeles Times / December 28, 2007

BAGHDAD - It was one of the more chilling attacks on US 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 yesterday the military announced a break in the case that could reveal the fate of the missing men, including one from Massachusetts.

A US 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, Specialist Alex R. Jimenez, 25, of Lawrence, Mass., and Private Byron W. Fouty, 19, of Waterford, Mich., have proved futile despite a massive dragnet following the attack in an agricultural village along the Euphrates River.

Private First Class 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 US 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 Qaeda 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 US troops listed as missing since the start of the war in March 2003. The Islamic State of Iraq, a front group for Al Qaeda, claimed in an Internet video earlier this year that the three missing soldiers were killed and buried. The militants showed images of the military IDs of Jimenez and Fouty but offered no proof that they were dead.

Also yesterday, there were conflicting accounts of a military raid in Kut, south of Baghdad.

Representatives of Moqtada al-Sadr, the anti-US Shi'ite Muslim cleric, disputed American military assertions that its forces had killed "an estimated 11 terrorists" in the operation. A US statement said those targeted were Shi'ite militiamen who have not adhered to a cease-fire that Sadr announced last August.

The statement said US 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 Sadr office in Kut, said those killed were "innocent, harmless people" who were asleep in their homes when US 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 Sadr's cease-fire. He disputed US 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 US forces began the raid shortly after midnight, acting on tips that a meeting of militia fighters was underway. The police said US 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 Sadr for calling on his Al Mahdi Army militia to halt aggression but says it will continue to go after Shi'ite militia fighters who have not halted activities against US forces and Iraqis.

It is common for Iraqis to dispute US accounts of raids and to accuse American forces of killing innocent civilians. Often, the truth is never determined.

Another disputed incident took place yesterday in Ramadi, about 60 miles west of Baghdad, where police said a US military convoy opened fire on a car that apparently did not heed orders to stop. Police said the troops sprayed the vehicle with gunfire, killing the driver. A search of his car did not turn up any weapons.

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