Fairfax County police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are seriously looking into the possibility that Fuad K. Taima, his wife and the couple's teenage son may have been killed last week in their McLean home because of Taima's contacts with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, sources said yesterday.
With police having ruled out a domestic dispute or robbery as the cause of the triple homicide, officials speculated yesterday that Taima, an Iraqi native known to his neighbors as an enthusiastic suburban soccer parent, may have run afoul of Saddam Hussein in a business deal gone bad.
Iraqi activists here offered a 180-degree twist on that theory: that Taima, founder of a group called the American Iraqi Foundation, could have been targeted by anti-Saddam Hussein forces angered by his years of contact and cooperation with the Iraqi leader.
Taima, 63, made numerous trips to Iraq before the Persian Gulf War and was there as recently as two weeks ago, sources said. He talked often about wanting to set up trade deals between Washington and Baghdad involving military contracts, pharmaceuticals and other products, according to several activists.
The bodies of Taima and his wife, Dorothy, 54, were found Friday on the first floor of their home on Broyhill Street, sources said. Their son, Leith, 16, was found dead upstairs. Each had been shot in the upper body. Sources said no weapon was recovered.
One government source knowledgeable about similar cases said the slayings fit the modus operandi for what Iraqi operatives do to people whose business dealings with Saddam Hussein turn sour.
"They don't hire lawyers," the source said.
Investigators probing last week's killings, which were discovered Friday afternoon in the quiet suburb not far from Tysons Corner, spent yesterday poring over Taima's letters, faxes and business records, looking for a motive.
Police cautioned that their joint investigation with the FBI has barely begun and that any talk of a connection to Saddam Hussein may lead nowhere. "It's a wide-open case at this juncture," said Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. "It would be sheer and utter guesswork."
But speculation ran high throughout the Iraqi American community that the shootings must have been an act of political vengeance.
"It's fair to say that this guy is a high-profile figure, one of the many people who do business with Saddam," said Francis Brooke, the Washington representative for a group called the Iraqi National Congress that opposes Saddam Hussein. "Everyone thinks it was a political killing."
Police have not said publicly when they believe the killings took place. Leith's friends at McLean High School said he was not in class Thursday or Friday. Several neighbors have said that they heard what might have been gunshots on Wednesday night but that they dismissed them as a car backfiring or firecrackers.
The last time any of the family members were known to be alive was about 11:30 p.m. Wednesday, when a friend of Leith's said she finished a lengthy telephone conversation with him.
"He didn't seem any different than he ever did," said Rachel Dinkin, 15, of Potomac. "He was laughing and joking and telling funny stories. He didn't mention anything about . . . being in any danger or anything like that."
Another of Leith's friends visited the house earlier that night. Leith and the friend were out together when Leith's mother paged him, according to the friend, who asked not to be identified.
Leith called his mother back and she told him that a family friend who hadn't been seen in years had come by the house and that she felt uncomfortable with him there, Leith's friend said. She asked Leith to come home.
Leith and the friend arrived there about 9 p.m. The friend, who left about 90 minutes later, described the visitor as "very quiet" and said Leith had recognized him.
At the police department's Criminal Investigations Bureau yesterday, officers combed through boxes of records taken from the family's home. In addition, police removed an upstairs bedroom door with two bullet holes in it.
"We're looking into all of [Fuad Taima's] dealings and connections," Fairfax police spokesman Warren Carmichael said. "We are going to explore all possibilities."
Susan Lloyd, a spokeswoman for the FBI, said the bureau was called in on Friday to aid in the investigation. "Our major case squad was asked to assist," she said. "We are assisting in conducting interviews and the examination of the crime scene."
Sources said their probe centers on Taima's business background.
In 1988, Taima and a partner, Assaad Khairallah, began a company called American-Iraqi Finance & Trade Inc., which Khairallah said failed because of the trade embargo imposed after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Taima then went into consulting work, his former partner said.
Taima's personal Web page contains links to oil industry sites and says his company provides consulting services "throughout North Africa and the Middle East."
But that picture is belied by what acquaintances here have said since the killings. The family was always borrowing money, and Taima's business was nearly broke, said Grazia Sher, who worked with Dorothy Taima in the Arlington school system.
Yesterday, Sher recalled a mysterious comment Dorothy Taima made a few months ago while confiding that the family was beset by crushing financial problems.
"She said, `Don't be surprised if you read in the paper that Leith is killed, I am killed and [my husband] is killed.' "