- The Washington Times - Monday, August 18, 2008

SOMALIA

U.N. official killed during kidnapping

MOGADISHU | A World Food Program employee and his chauffeur are feared dead in Somalia after a botched kidnapping, a U.N. official said yesterday citing a third member of their party who got away.

“The information we are getting indicates that the kidnappers killed the WFP officer, because the man who was with them managed to escape when the gunmen opened fire on them,” a U.N. official told Agence France-Presse on the condition of anonymity.

While information remained sketchy, the official said that “the hope that those men are alive is fading.”



A local elder said no bodies had been found, but that blood was discovered at the scene.

“The man who escaped told us that the U.N. officer and his driver were killed by the militias, and this information seems to be true, because some people who went to the scene saw blood,” Mohamed Moalim Nur, in Dinsoor, told Agence France-Presse.

The kidnapping of the local WFP deputy treasurer took place about 210 miles west of Mogadishu.

MAURITANIA

Junta leader vows to hold elections

NOUAKCHOTT | The head of a junta that toppled Mauritania’s president this month vowed to organize elections soon and to crack down on corruption in his first broadcast address Sunday.

“I commit myself before you and before God almighty to organize free and transparent presidential elections as soon as possible,” General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz said in remarks carried on television and radio.

The general, who did not specify a date for the vote, spoke 11 days after an Aug. 6 coup which ousted democratically elected president Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi.

He has since formed a State Council comprised of 11 military officials, promised to hold elections and on Thursday appointed a new prime minister to head a transitional government.

In his address Sunday, Ould Abdel Aziz sharply criticized the former president for purportedly tolerating a climate of corruption and for a miserable economic record.

IRAQ

Suicide bomber hits Sunni mosque

BAGHDAD | A suicide bomber blew himself up near a mosque in a Sunni Arab bastion of Baghdad on Sunday, killing at least 15 people and wounding 30, security officials told Agence France-Presse.

The bomber detonated his explosives vest at a checkpoint near the revered Sunni Abu Hanifa mosque in northern Baghdad’s Adhamiyah district, the officials and an Agence France-Presse correspondent at the site said.

A security official with the interior ministry said the bomber was riding a bicycle when he detonated his vest, while witnesses told the Agence France-Presse correspondent that he was dressed as a woman.

The checkpoint was manned by local Sunni Arabs who were members of a group fighting al Qaeda militants, the correspondent said.

Those killed included Faruq al-Obeidi, a local leader of the anti-al-Qaeda group, six of his bodyguards and eight civilians, security officials said.

Al Qaeda has regularly carried out attacks against these so-called “Awakening” groups which are supported by the U.S. military to fight extremists.

Abu Hanifa mosque is one of the most revered Sunni mosques in Baghdad and was the site where now executed dictator Saddam Hussein made his last public appearance before being toppled by U.S. invasion troops in April 2003.

IRAQ

Blackwater guards targets of probe

U.S. prosecutors have sent letters to six Blackwater security guards involved in a Baghdad shooting last year in a move that could lead to groundbreaking criminal indictments, The Washington Post reported Sunday.

Bodyguards from U.S. security firm Blackwater Worldwide opened fire in a traffic jam in September, killing 17 Iraqi civilians while escorting a convoy of U.S. diplomats through the capital under a contract with the State Department.

The incident enraged the Iraqi government, which called it a “massacre” and demanded the right to try the guards in Iraq. Iraqis were further upset in April when the State Department renewed Blackwater’s contract to protect its embassy staff.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told a news conference Sunday: “The Iraqi government stresses that Blackwater has committed a crime and the Iraqi government retains the right to prosecute the company.”

The guards from the North Carolina-based private security firm say they acted lawfully and fired in self-defense.

The question of where and how the contractors can be tried has yet to be publicly resolved, and the incident set off debate in Washington on the use of contractors in war.

The Post, citing three sources close to the case, said prosecutors are still considering evidence after a 10-month FBI investigation of the shooting. The sources said any charges against Blackwater employees probably would come under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act.

That law has been used to prosecute civilian contractors for crimes committed while accompanying U.S. armed forces, but some legal experts question whether it can be used to prosecute State Department contractors operating separately from the military.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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