American Soldiers Brutally Killed By Zarqawi’s Al Qaeda Successor
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
BAGHDAD, Iraq – American forces yesterday recovered the bodies of two American soldiers reported captured by insurgents last week. An Iraqi Defense Ministry official said the men were tortured and “killed in a barbaric way.”
Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for killing the soldiers, and said the successor to terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had “slaughtered” them, according to a Web statement that could not be authenticated. The language in the statement suggested the men were beheaded.
U.S. Major General William Caldwell said the remains were believed to be those of Private First Class Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston, and Private First Class Thomas Tucker, 25, of Madras, Ore.
He said American troops – part of a search involving some 8,000 American and Iraqi forces – found the bodies late Monday near Youssifiyah, where they disappeared Friday.
Troops did not recover the bodies until yesterday because they had to wait until daylight to cordon off the area for an ordnance team for fear it was boobytrapped, General Caldwell said.
The checkpoint attacked Friday was in the Sunni Arab region known as the “Triangle of Death” because of frequent ambushes there of America soldiers and Iraqi troops.General 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 America for DNA tests to confirm the identities, General Caldwell said.
The two soldiers disappeared after an insurgent attack Friday at a checkpoint by a Euphrates River canal, 12 miles south of Baghdad. Specialist David 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, Major General 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 posted an Internet statement Monday claiming it was holding the 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 terrorist 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 Mr. 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 American military has identified Mr. Muhajer as an Egyptian associate of Zarqawi also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri.
The killings would be the first acts of violence attributed to Mr. Muhajer since he was named Al Qaeda in Iraq’s new leader in a June 12 Web message by the group.
General Caldwell said Iraqi and American troops involved in the search for the missing soldiers killed three suspected insurgents and detained 34 in fighting that wounded seven American servicemen.
Also, just hours before the two soldiers went missing Friday, an American airstrike killed a key Al Qaeda in Iraq leader described as the group’s “religious emir,” he said.
Mansour Suleiman Mansour Khalifi al-Mashhadani, or Sheik Mansour, was killed with two foreign fighters in the same area where the soldiers’ bodies were found, the American spokesman said. The three were trying to flee in a vehicle.
Mashhadani was “a key leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, with excellent religious, military, and leadership credentials” and tied to the senior leadership, including Zarqawi and his alleged replacement, General Caldwell said.
American forces captured Mashhadani in July 2004 because of his ties to the terrorist groups Ansar al-Islam and Ansar al-Sunna, but the military let him go because he was not deemed an important terror figure at the time.
General Caldwell said that in addition to the two soldiers, a dozen Americans – including 11 private citizens – are missing in Iraq. In addition, Captain Michael Speicher, a Navy pilot, remains listed as missing in Iraq since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, he said.