- The Washington Times - Friday, November 22, 2002

KUWAIT CITY A Kuwaiti policeman shot and seriously wounded two U.S. Army soldiers yesterday, the latest in a string of attacks on American troops as the United States prepares for a potential war in Iraq.

A statement by the Kuwaiti Interior Ministry said the policeman, who was identified only as a junior officer in the highway patrol, fled to Saudi Arabia after the shooting.

Officials said they had no details about the policeman's motive.

But the attack took place as anti-Americanism is rising in the Middle East and raised concern about the safety of U.S. troops, even in a country that considers itself an American ally.

The shooting occurred about 10:30 a.m. while the victims were traveling between the U.S. military base of Camp Doha and the town of Oraifijan, about 35 miles south of Kuwait City, a U.S. military spokesman said on the condition of anonymity.

A Kuwaiti official, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the policeman apparently flagged down the victims' car, possibly for speeding, and the shooting followed. Other reports indicated the attacker fired from his car while the Americans' vehicle was also moving.

One soldier was shot in the face and the other in the shoulder, the U.S. spokesman said. Both victims were airlifted to a Kuwaiti military hospital where their conditions were said to be serious but not life-threatening.

The U.S. spokesman said the soldiers, who were wearing civilian clothes and riding in a civilian vehicle, did not return fire. The victims managed to drive to Oraifijan, where they had been headed on "official business," before being flown to the hospital. The U.S. military maintains a camp in the Oraifijan area.

The victims were not identified, but a woman told KPLC-TV in Lake Charles, La., that Army officials told her one of the wounded soldiers was her brother, Larry Charles Thomas, of Lake Charles. Rose Thomas said her brother underwent surgery yesterday.

The U.S. Embassy said there was no evidence the attack was linked to terrorism. In Prague, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the attack was not necessarily linked to the U.S. military buildup in Kuwait in anticipation of potential military action against Iraq.

"There have been terrorist attacks in that region for my entire adult lifetime, and that's a long time," said the 70-year-old defense secretary, who was attending the NATO summit in the Czech capital.

The attack was the most serious against U.S. forces here since Oct. 8, when one U.S. Marine was killed and another wounded by two Islamic militants, who were shot dead by other Marines.

U.S. and Kuwaiti officials have played down several subsequent incidents in which gunshots were heard near American forces. Those were blamed on hunters and officials from both countries stressed that there was no evidence Americans were targeted.

However, the shooting yesterday appeared to confirm the belief that the presence of 10,000 U.S. troops and negative views of American policy in the region are fueling anti-Americanism, even though the government and many Kuwaitis support the U.S. military's role here.

The U.S. military personnel are based in Kuwait under a defense pact signed between both countries after the 1991 Gulf war, during which an American-led coalition drove Iraqi invaders from the country.

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