- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 17, 2009

KABUL, Afghanistan | Four American private security guards are being held against their will in Afghanistan by the company formerly known as Blackwater after their involvement in a deadly shooting, their attorney said Saturday. A spokeswoman for the company denied the allegation.

The shooting and allegations by the contractors’ attorney of forced confinement highlight the murky legal world in which private security companies operate in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Blackwater was involved in a 2007 shooting in a busy square in Baghdad that left as many as 17 Iraqi civilians dead and led to the end of its Baghdad operations this month. Blackwater has since changed its name to Xe.

An Afghan died and two others were wounded in the May 5 incident in the capital, Kabul, said Lt. Col. Chris Kubik, a U.S. military spokesman.

The family of the dead Afghan man said he and the two others were innocent civilians driving home after work. The attorney for the suspects said they were insurgents trying to kill his clients.

Daniel Callahan, a California lawyer for the contractors, said the four Americans purportedly involved were being scapegoated. He said workers employed by the company were not supposed to be armed.

“Blackwater violated the letter of authorization by giving these guys these guns,” Mr. Callahan said. “And now they want to put the blame on them so as to relieve Blackwater of the violation.”

Anne Tyrrell, a spokeswoman for Xe - based in Moyock, N.C. - said the company was not entirely banned from carrying weapons in Afghanistan. “It really depends on the work,” she said.

Col. Kubik, the U.S. military spokesman, said he did not know whether the contractors were allowed to carry weapons.

Mr. Callahan claimed that the U.S. Army cleared the four Americans to leave Afghanistan on May 12 after completing their questioning. But they were now being held against their will at a company safe house in Kabul, he said.

Ms. Tyrrell denied the four were being forcibly detained.

“What I can tell you is that they have been terminated and have been asked not to leave the country without the approval and direction of the [Department of Defense],” Ms. Tyrrell said.

“The company continues to seek guidance from DOD on the travel status of the individuals involved,” a statement later quoted Ms. Tyrrell as saying.

Col. Kubik said the U.S. military in Afghanistan is still investigating the incident, and he did not know whether the four had been cleared to leave the country.

The contracting company took the four away on Thursday from a military compound where they lived, and they were never detained by the U.S. military, Col. Kubik said.

The men believe that Xe is attempting to negotiate a deal in which it would hand them over to Afghan authorities in exchange for official permission to remain in the country, Mr. Callahan said.

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