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Posted Thursday, May 13, 2004

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Thursday, May 13, 2004

Nick Berg

[Conflicting stories emerge]


Beheading victim 'never in US custody'

A frame grab taken from website video footage
shows a man, who identified himself as Nick Berg of Philadelphia ....

THE young American who was decapitated on a videotape posted by an al-Qaeda-linked Web site was never under US custody despite claims from his family, coalition spokesman Dan Senor said today.

Senor told reporters that Berg, 26, from West Chester, Pennsylvania, was detained by Iraqi police in Mosul. The Iraqis informed the Americans, and the FBI met with Berg three times to determine what he was doing in Iraq.

Senor said that to his knowledge, "he (Berg) was at no time under the jurisdiction or detention of coalition forces."

The spokesman said Berg was arrested by the Iraqi police in the northern city of Mosul on March 24 because the police "suspected that he was engaged in suspicious activities." Senor refused to elaborate.

Berg was released April 6 and advised to leave the country, Senor said. His body was found in western Baghdad on Saturday.

However, calls by The Associated Press to police in Mosul failed to find anyone who could confirm Berg was held there or why.

Berg, a small telecommunications business owner, spoke to his parents on March 24 and told them he would return home on March 30, his family said. But Berg told his family that after he was detained by Iraqi police, he was turned over to US officials and detained for 13 days.

His father, Michael, said his son wasn't allowed to make phone calls or contact a lawyer.

FBI agents visited Berg's parents in West Chester on March 31 and told the family they were trying to confirm their son's identity. On April 5, the Bergs filed suit in federal court in Philadelphia, contending that their son was being held illegally by the US military. The next day Berg was released. He told his parents he hadn't been mistreated.

His father, Michael Berg, said he blamed the US government for creating circumstances that led to his son's death. He said if his son hadn't been detained for so long, he might have been able to leave the country before the violence worsened.

"I think a lot of people are fed up with the lack of civil rights this thing has caused," he said. "I don't think this administration is committed to democracy."

Dan SenorAsked for details about Berg's last weeks in Iraq, Senor (left) replied: "We are obviously trying to piece all this together, and there's a thorough investigation." But he said he was reluctant at this time to release details.

"The US government is committed to a very thorough and robust investigation to get to the bottom of this," Senor said. "As I said, everybody is shocked by the horrific images of this terrorist act."

He said "multiple" US agencies would be involved in the Berg case and that the FBI would probably have overall direction.

Senor said that in Iraq, Berg had no affiliation with the United States government, the coalition or "to my knowledge" any coalition-affiliated contractor. But Senor would not specify why Iraqi police, who generally take direction from coalition authorities, had arrested him and held him for some time.

"We don't want to speculate," Senor [Website note: who is also Jewish] said. "Obviously it is extremely sensitive; and it is an extremely difficult time for the family and it would be highly irresponsible for us to begin speculative discussions about what he may or may not have been involved in."

Mark Kimmitt[Brigadier General Mark] Kimmitt (right) said that the only role which the US military played in Berg's confinement was to liaise with the Iraqi police to make sure he was being fed and properly treated.

"There may have been a lot of things that he was not, but he was still an American citizen," Kimmitt said.

The White House rejected any link between the abuse of Iraqi detainees by US soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison and the "brutal, barbaric" beheading of Berg.

A day after Berg's blood-curdling slaying by masked assailants was broadcast on an Internet site, spokesman Scott McClellan rejected their claim that they were avenging the mistreatment at the facility near Baghdad.

"Terrorists are going to seek any excuse, and try to change, their excuses to try to justify murder, destruction and chaos," he said, stressing that it was important to "separate the two" issues.

The spokesman said he was "not aware" of any attempt by Berg's killers to contact US authorities in Iraq or negotiate for his release.

"There simply is no justification for the deliberate and brutal killing of an innocent civilian," said McClellan. "The brutal barbaric action of these terrorists shows their true nature."

Meanwhile, an Egyptian expert of Islamic movements said today he believed the voice on a video recording of the beheading of a US businessman in Iraq was indeed that of top al-Qaeda operative Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi.

AP, Reuters, AFP

Copyright © 2004. The Sydney Morning Herald

US businessman Nick Berg executed on camera | Mr Irving's commentary
Expanding the Taguba report: Israel's role in training US army in torture techniques

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