By Andy Mosher
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, August 10, 2006
BAGHDAD, Aug. 9 -- U.S. military forces have arrested four Iraqi men in connection with the kidnapping of Jill Carroll, an American journalist who was held captive for 82 days before being set free on March 30, a military spokesman said Wednesday.
Following a trail of clues that led them to four locations in and around Baghdad, U.S. soldiers and Marines apprehended men alleged to have been among Carroll's captors, said Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the military's top spokesman in Iraq.
Three of the sites were confirmed as places where Carroll had been held, including a house near Habbaniyah, about 40 miles west of Baghdad, that was the last place the kidnappers took her, Caldwell said.
"Troops on the ground, young Marines and sailors, paid attention to what may have been considered minor details at the time" to help identify the first site, Caldwell said.
He did not name the four detainees. They are being held by the military pending a decision on whether they will be charged with any crimes, Caldwell said. An FBI spokesman in Washington, Richard Kolko, said in a statement that "this matter remains an ongoing FBI investigation and any questions about potential prosecution will be addressed at a later date."
Carroll, 28, was working as a freelance reporter for the Christian Science Monitor when she was abducted on Jan. 7 in west Baghdad. Gunmen ambushed her car as she was leaving the office of a Sunni Arab political leader, killing her translator, Allan Enwiyah, 32.
The kidnappers, who identified themselves as the Vengeance Brigades, released three videos of Carroll in captivity and demanded that all Iraqi women in U.S. detention be released. U.S. forces freed some women, but said that move was unrelated to the kidnappers' threats.
Carroll was eventually freed outside an office of the Sunni-dominated Iraqi Islamic Party in west Baghdad.
The Monitor, where Carroll now works as an editor, welcomed the arrests. "Like reporters everywhere, we are reassured to hear that several of those believed to have held Jill have been apprehended," editor Richard Bergenheim told reporters in Boston. "The daily threat of kidnapping in Iraq remains acute for all. Everything possible needs to be done to relieve Iraqis and others of this scourge.
"Those that are reporting in Iraq, those living in Iraq, are a bit safer today," he said.
The Monitor plans Monday to begin publishing an 11-part series chronicling Carroll's kidnapping. Caldwell said information released by the newspaper in advance of the series led the military to announce the arrests on Wednesday.
For example, a promotional video on the Monitor's Web site states that Carroll was moved nine times during her captivity. Caldwell said that while the military has only identified three places where she was held, the number could be higher.
Caldwell did not say when the searches and arrests occurred. But the Associated Press, reporting details of the case that it had agreed to withhold until the arrests were announced, said the house near Habbaniyah was discovered and the first arrest made on May 19. The house lies within view of a fence that surrounds the Taqqadum logistics base, where dozens of U.S. helicopters and planes fly in and out each day ferrying supplies for Marines serving in western Iraq.
First Lt. Jake Cusack, 24, of Grand Rapids, Mich., had put together intelligence reports to conclude that the house was likely used to hide Carroll, the AP reported. Marines decided to check it out.
On the afternoon of the operation, 20 Marines driving to the targeted home were struck by a roadside bomb, although none was injured. Shortly afterward, a second bomb exploded, and insurgents fired on the Marines from a car. "We knew it was a limited time window," Cusack told the AP. "It was our best shot at it."
When they arrived at the house, the Marines told the owner that their stopover was a routine visit. While several spoke with the man in his living room, others quickly searched the rest of the home. They confirmed that the house matched their intelligence reports. They said they also found a slip of paper with Carroll's name written on it, $3,600 in U.S. currency and an AK-47 assault rifle hidden in a car outside.
"Hey, sir, don't react but this is it," Cusack recalled radioing to his commanding officer, who was still chatting with the suspect.
Marines said the owner calmly responded to their questions -- until one Marine mentioned how a recent spate of kidnappings in the area had angered him. "He blanches, just for a second, then [a Marine] says, 'All right, you're coming up with us,' " Cusack told the news service.
Caldwell, the military spokesman, said evidence gathered at the first house led to a raid on a house near Fallujah. That house, Caldwell said, was believed to be the residence of one of the kidnappers, a member of the Mujaheddin Shura Council, an insurgent coalition that includes the group al-Qaeda in Iraq. Marines arrested one man there, but it was unclear whether he was the targeted council member.
A third raid, this time by members of the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division, was conducted at a house where Carroll apparently was held near Abu Ghraib, just outside Baghdad.
The soldiers found and disarmed "devices that had been set to intentionally inflict harm on them if they entered the home. . . . And going in, they did find two hostages -- two kidnap victims in this home here, which they were able to free and return them back to their families," Caldwell said.
Evidence gathered at the Abu Ghraib house, Caldwell said, led to a fourth site in Baghdad's Kadhimiyah neighborhood -- another spot where Carroll was believed to have been held.