Saturday, November 26, 2005

LONDON — A video appearing to show private security guards in Baghdad randomly shooting Iraqi civilians has sparked two investigations after it was posted on the Internet.

The video, which first appeared on a Web site that has been linked unofficially to Aegis Defense Services — one of the biggest security companies operating in Iraq — contained four separate clips, in which security guards open fire with automatic rifles at civilian cars.

All of the shooting incidents apparently took place on “route Irish,” a road that links the airport to Baghdad.

The road has acquired the dubious distinction of being the most dangerous in the world because of the number of suicide attacks and ambushes carried out by insurgents against coalition troops. In one four-month period earlier this year, it was the scene of 150 attacks.

In one of the recorded attacks, a Mercedes is fired on at a distance of several hundred yards before it crashes in to a civilian taxi.

In another clip, a white civilian car is raked with machine gun fire as it approaches an unidentified security company vehicle. Bullets can be seen hitting the vehicle before it comes to a slow stop.

There are no clues as to the shooter but either a Scottish or Irish accent can be heard in at least one of the clips above Elvis Presley’s, “Mystery Train,” the music which accompanies the video.

A spokesman for Aegis confirmed yesterday that the company was carrying out an internal investigation to see if any of their employees were involved.

The Foreign Office has also confirmed that it is investigating the contents of the video in conjunction with Aegis.

Aegis Defense Services was set up in 2002 by Tim Spicer, a former officer in Britain’s Scots Guards military unit.

The company was recently awarded a security contract in Iraq by the U.S. government for nearly $400 million.

Aegis conducts a number of security duties and helped with the collection of ballot papers in the country’s recent constitutional referendum.

Mr. Spicer, 53, rose to public prominence in 1998 when his private military contractor, Sandlines International, was accused of breaking U.N. sanctions by selling arms to Sierra Leone.

The video appeared on the Web site

The Web site states: “This site does not belong to Aegis Defence Ltd, it belongs to the men on the ground who are the heart and soul of the company.” The clips have been removed.

The Web site also contains a message from Mr. Spicer, which reads: “I am also concerned about media interest in this site and I remind everyone of their contractual obligation not to speak to or assist the media without clearing it with the project management or Aegis London. …

“Refrain from posting anything which is detrimental to the company since this could result in the loss or curtailment of our contract with resultant loss for everybody.”

Security companies awarded contracts by the U.S. administration in Iraq adopt the same rules for opening fire as the American military.

U.S. military vehicles carry a sign warning drivers to keep their distance from the vehicle. The warning which appears in both Arabic and English reads, “Danger. Keep back. Authorized to use lethal force.” A similar warning is also displayed on the rear of vehicles belonging to Aegis.

Capt. Adnan Tawfiq of the Iraqi Interior Ministry, which deals with compensation issues, told the Sunday Telegraph that he has received numerous claims from families who say that their relatives have been shot by private security contractors traveling in road convoys.

“When the security companies kill people, they just drive away and nothing is done. Sometimes, we [call] the companies concerned and they deny everything. The families don’t get any money or compensation. I would say we have had about 50-60 incidents of this kind,” Capt. Tawfiq said.

A spokesman for Aegis said: “There is nothing to indicate that these film clips are in any way connected to Aegis.”

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