- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 20, 2006

1:06 p.m.

BAGHDAD — The bodies of two U.S. soldiers reported captured last week have been recovered, and an Iraqi defense ministry official said today the men had been “killed in a barbaric way.”

Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for killing the soldiers, and said the successor to slain terror leader Abu Musab Zarqawi had “slaughtered” them, according to a Web statement that could not be authenticated. The language in the statement suggested the men had been beheaded.

Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said the remains, found late Monday by American troops, were believed to be those of Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston, and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker, 25, of Madras, Ore.

He said U.S. forces — part of a search involving some 8,000 American and Iraqi troops — found the bodies late Monday near Youssifiyah, where they disappeared Friday.

Troops did not recover the bodies until today, however, because U.S. forces had to wait until daylight to cordon off the area for an ordnance team for fear it was booby-trapped, Gen. Caldwell said.

The checkpoint attacked Friday was in the Sunni Arab region known as the “Triangle of Death” because of frequent ambushes there of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi troops. Gen. Caldwell said troops encountered a lot of roadside bombs and other explosives during the three-day search, including in the area where the bodies were found.

The cause of death was “undeterminable at this point,” and the two bodies will be taken back to the United States for DNA tests to confirm the identities, Gen. Caldwell said.

The two soldiers disappeared after a deadly insurgent attack Friday at a checkpoint by a Euphrates River canal south of Baghdad. Spc. David J. Babineau, 25, of Springfield, Mass., was killed. The three men were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Ky.

The director of the Iraqi defense ministry’s operation room, Maj. Gen. Abdul-Aziz Mohammed, said the bodies showed signs of having been tortured. “With great regret, they were killed in a barbaric way,” he said.

The claim of responsibility was made in the name of the Mujahedeen Shura Council, an umbrella organization of five insurgent groups led by al Qaeda in Iraq. The group had posted an Internet statement Monday claiming it was holding the two American soldiers captive.

“We give the good news … to the Islamic nation that we have carried God’s verdict by slaughtering the two captured crusaders,” said the claim, which appeared on an Islamic militant Web site where insurgent groups regularly post statements and videos.

“With God Almighty’s blessing, Abu Hamza al-Muhajer carried out the verdict of the Islamic court” calling for the soldiers’ slaying, the statement said.

The statement said the soldiers were “slaughtered,” suggesting that al-Muhajer beheaded them. The Arabic word used in the statement, “nahr,” is used for the slaughtering of sheep by cutting the throat and has been used in past statements to refer to beheadings.

The U.S. military has identified al-Muhajer as an Egyptian associate of Zarqawi, who is also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri.

The killings would be the first acts of violence attributed to al-Muhajer since he was named al Qaeda in Iraq’s new leader in a June 12 Web message by the group. He succeeded Zarqawi, who was killed in a U.S. air strike on June 7.

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