St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

6 held in Iraq say they are Americans

U.S. officials say the detainees are suspected in guerrilla attacks and have a dizzying array of citizenship papers.

Compiled from Times wires
Published September 17, 2003

U.S. forces in Iraq are holding six people identifying themselves as Americans and two more saying they are British, a U.S. general said Tuesday.

Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who is in charge of coalition detention centers in Iraq, said the six prisoners asserting U.S. citizenship spoke with American accents, but their claims had yet to be substantiated. They would be the first Westerners reported held in the fighting against the U.S.-led occupation.

Speaking during a tour of Abu Ghraib, the notorious prison outside Baghdad, Karpinski said they were considered security detainees, meaning they were suspected of involvement in guerrilla attacks. She did not identify them but said they were being interrogated by military intelligence in Baghdad, where they were being held.

Law enforcement officials in Washington said Tuesday that there was little certainty about the identities of the men, their nationalities or even a clear explanation of what they were doing in Iraq, questions that are being investigated in Iraq and the United States by military and civilian authorities. But they said that there was among them no obviously American figure, like John Walker Lindh, the Californian who fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

"The truth is that the folks that we've scooped up have, on a number of occasions, multiple identifications from different countries," Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said at a briefing in Washington on Tuesday. "They're quite skilled at confusing people as to what their real nationality is or where they came from or what they're doing."

Karpinski also said there were "several ... hundred third-country nationals in custody."

Karpinski said classifying the prisoners as security detainees gave the military a right to interview them that was lacking if they were prisoners of war, according to Agence France-Presse. "It's not that they don't have rights," Karpinski said. "They have fewer rights" than prisoners of war.

Rumsfeld said the prisoners being held by the United States fall into two categories: those arrested for ordinary crimes and those detained because of their roles in Saddam Hussein's regime or as combatants against U.S. forces.

During the war in Afghanistan, the Pentagon sent "enemy combatants" suspected of ties to the Taliban or al-Qaida to a prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where they have been held for questioning and possible trial before military tribunals. There are about 660 men from 42 countries in the camp. However, Lt. Col. Pamela Hart, a spokeswoman for the mission in Guantanamo, said Tuesday that none of the detainees being held there was captured in Iraq.

On a day of comparative quiet, the military reported scattered attacks against the occupying forces around Iraq, but no soldiers' deaths. In the northern city of Mosul, the military said, one Albanian soldier, part of a contingent of 70 Albanians in Iraq, was wounded Monday along with 13 Iraqis in a grenade attack in front of the city hall building. Later on Monday, officials said, two U.S. soldiers were also injured in separate attacks there.

Amid dozens of raids around Tikrit, Hussein's hometown, the military also reported it had killed two Iraqis in a firefight overnight near an ammunition dump.

In Khaldiya, 45 miles west of Baghdad, officers of the small and beleaguered Police Department vowed to stay on duty despite the slaying the day before of their new chief, Col. Khudheir Mikhlif Ali, gunned down as he drove to his home in the restive Sunni city of Fallujah. Even before the killing, the work of the new police had been stymied by accusations that they were collaborating with the U.S. military.

"This is our place," said Maj. Mohammad Farhan, 36, sitting in a police station nearly empty because of looting. "We will stay no matter what."

- Information from the New York Times and Associated Press was used in this report.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.