- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 7, 2010

RALEIGH, North Carolina (AP) — Two former Blackwater contractors were arrested Thursday on murder charges in the shootings of two Afghans after a traffic accident last year, according to an indictment obtained by The Associated Press.

The indictment charges Justin Cannon, 27, and Chris Drotleff, 29, with second-degree murder, attempted murder and weapons charges. Both of them are in custody, said Peter Carr, a spokesman with the U.S. attorney’s office in Virginia’s eastern district.

Both men have said in recent interviews with The Associated Press that they were justified in opening fire on a car that caused an accident in front of their vehicle, then turned and sped toward them after they got out to help.

The indictment says the shooting at a Kabul intersection killed two men. At least one other person was injured.

The military veterans worked for Paravant, a subsidiary of Xe, the company formerly known as Blackwater.

Both Cannon and Drotleff were fired after the shooting for failing to comply with the terms of their contract.

“My conscience is clear about it, but that doesn’t really matter,” said Cannon in a recent interview. “If someone’s got an agenda, then there’s nothing I can do about it.”

The investigation opens a new front in the U.S. government’s attempt to increase oversight of contractor activities in war zones after a series of problems in Iraq strained relations between Washington and Baghdad.

Several Blackwater contractors had been charged with 14 counts of manslaughter for their role in a 2007 shooting in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square. But a judge dropped those charges last week.

In another case, federal prosecutors have told a Seattle attorney they intend to charge another Blackwater contractor in the killing of an Iraqi guard in 2006.

Xe lawyer Peter White had no immediate comment on the indictment.

___

Barrett reported from Washington.

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