Sun, Jul 02, 2006 - Page 7 News List

US soldiers suspected of foul play in Iraqi deaths

PREMEDITATED ACT A US military official said that the US soldiers likely studied their victims for a week before raping the woman and killing her and three of her family

AP , BEIJI, IRAQ

Investigators believe the US soldiers suspected of raping an Iraqi woman, then killing her and members of her family plotted the attack for nearly a week, a US military official said yesterday.

The official, who is close to the investigation, said that flammable liquid was used to burn the woman's body in a cover-up attempt, although it was not clear if it was gasoline or lighter fluid.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, said it appeared the attack was "totally premeditated" and that the soldiers "studied them for about a week."

According to the official, the Sunni Arab family had just moved into a new home in the insurgent-riddled area around Mahmoudiya, south of Baghdad. The Americans entered the home, separated three males from the woman, then raped her and set fire to her body, the official said. The three males were also slain.

US officials said they knew of the deaths, but thought the victims died due to sectarian violence.

But Mahmoudiya police Captain Ihsan Abdul-Rahman said Iraqi officials received a report on March 13 alleging that US soldiers had killed the family. The incident occurred in the Khasir Abyad area, about 9km north of Mahmoudiya, he said.

There were some discrepancies over how many soldiers were being investigated. The US official said it was at least four. Two other US officials said on Friday that five were under investigation, but one already had been discharged for unspecified charges unrelated to the killings and was believed to be in the US.

In Baghdad, the US military issued a terse statement on Friday, saying only that Major General James Thurman, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, ordered a criminal investigation into the alleged slaying of a family of four in Mahmoudiya, 30km south of Baghdad.

The four still in the Army have had their weapons taken away and are confined to a US base near Mahmoudiya, officials said. If convicted of premeditated murder, the soldiers could receive a death sentence under US military law.

The suspects in the killing were from the same platoon as two soldiers kidnapped and killed south of Baghdad this month, another official close to the investigation said on Friday. Their mutilated bodies were found on June 19, three days after they were abducted by insurgents near Youssifiyah, southwest of Baghdad.

The military has said one and possibly both of the slain soldiers were tortured and beheaded. The official said the mutilation of the slain soldiers stirred feelings of guilt and led at least one member of the platoon to reveal the rape-slaying on June 22.

One soldier was arrested after admitting his role in the alleged attack on the family, he said on condition of anonymity because the case is under way.

The official said the rape and killings appear to have been a "crime of opportunity," noting that the soldiers had not been attacked by insurgents but had noticed the woman on previous patrols.

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