- The Washington Times - Monday, July 5, 2004

BAGHDAD —The fate of a kidnapped U.S. Marine was thrown into doubt yesterday when an extremist group, the Ansar al-Sunna Army, disavowed a statement attributed to it and posted Saturday on an Islamist extremist Web site.

The statement on Saturday claimed Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun, of Lebanese origin, had been killed. However, a statement yesterday on Ansar al-Sunna’s own site claimed the earlier declaration was false.

Iraqi troops, meanwhile, thwarted a car bombing outside their regional headquarters northeast of Baghdad, killing the attacker. Two bystanders died in the assault.

The incident occurred in Baqouba, scene of fierce fighting last week between American troops and insurgents who tried to seize government buildings and police stations.

According to Iraqi police, the would-be attacker was stopped for a routine search at an Iraqi national guard checkpoint near the unit’s headquarters. The driver jumped from the vehicle, shouted “God is great” and “I’m going to kill you.”

Guardsmen opened fire, killing him and triggering the explosives in the car, according to police Chief Waleed al-Azawi. Two bystanders were killed in the explosion, hospital officials said.

Confusion over the fate of Cpl. Hassoun, who was kidnapped last month, swirled after the contradictory Web site claims. His abduction was first reported June 27, when the Arab television station Al Jazeera broadcast a videotape showing Cpl. Hassoun blindfolded, along with a statement from militants threatening to kill him unless the United States released all Iraqis in “occupation jails.”

The abduction was claimed by a group calling itself “Islamic Response,” the security wing of the “National Islamic Resistance — 1920 Revolution Brigades.”

A statement Saturday claiming he had been killed was signed in the name of Ansar al-Sunna, which is believed to have carried out a double suicide attack last February against two Kurdish political parties that killed 109 persons.

Names of various insurgent groups surface from time to time, and it is uncertain whether all represent different organizations or if names are changed to sow confusion among the authorities.

“In order to maintain our credibility in all issues, we declare that this statement that was attributed to us has no basis of truth,” the Web site said yesterday.

“Any statement that is not issued through our site doesn’t represent us,” it said.

A senior official of the state-run South Oil Co. told Dow Jones Newswires yesterday that Iraq had shut down a key oil-export pipeline near Basra after attacks on two major pipelines. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the shutdown reduced exports by 10 percent.

Insurgents also fired rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons at a U.S. convoy of 20 gasoline tankers between Baghdad and the restive city of Fallujah. There were no reports of casualties.

Although Iraq regained sovereignty a week ago, about 160,000 foreign troops, most of them Americans, remain here under a U.N. resolution to help the new government restore security.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Iyad Allawi politely but firmly rejected offers of help from Jordan’s King Abdullah II, telling ABC’s “This Week” that “we are not asking” for additional troops.

The Iraqis are reluctant to bring in Arab troops — especially from neighboring countries — fearing that could complicate relations with Syria and Iran, which U.S. and Iraqi officials say have not done enough to control infiltration across their borders.

Mr. Allawi’s government is expected to announce a package of initiatives to combat the insurgency, including limited emergency rule and an offer of amnesty to some of those who fought the U.S.-led occupation.

Mr. Allawi’s spokesman, Georges Sada, suggested Saturday that guerrillas who fought the Americans before the sovereignty transfer could be eligible because their actions were legitimate acts of resistance.

However, the deputy prime minister for national security, Bahram Saleh, took issue with that statement, saying he found the comment “very surprising to have come from a spokesman for the prime minister.”

“But the prime minister and the Cabinet are grateful for the United States and the coalition partners,” Mr. Saleh, a pro-U.S. Kurdish politician, told CNN’s “Late Edition.”

Mr. Saleh confirmed the Cabinet was discussing an amnesty offer and was deliberating how to give “people an opportunity to reintegrate within society,” while at the same time “remaining firm against people who have committed atrocities and have committed crimes against the people of Iraq and against the coalition forces that have come to help us overcome tyranny.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide