updated 5/6/2009 3:47:26 PM ET 2009-05-06T19:47:26

A defense contractor charged with trying to smuggle firearms out of Iraq claimed Blackwater guards asked him to help get rid of weapons after a deadly 2007 shooting in Baghdad, two government informants say in court documents.

The man told one of the informants, a U.S. Army reservist, that Blackwater guards wanted to dispose of the weapons before an investigation began into the September 2007 shooting that left several civilians dead, according to a criminal complaint filed in the smuggling case. The contractor, John Houston, did not work for Blackwater.

Five of Blackwater's guards face manslaughter and weapons charges in the shooting, which prosecutors say was an unprovoked attack on civilians. That shooting strained relations between Baghdad and Washington and led Iraqi leaders to order Blackwater out of the country.

A spokeswoman said the North Carolina-based company, now known as Xe, only recently learned of Houston's claims and has never been contacted by investigators about them.

"This individual's claims may make for a juicy story, but time may tell a more truthful one," spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell said in a release.

Charged with conspiracy to smuggle firearms
Houston, a retired Special Forces soldier, was indicted last week in federal court in Maryland on a charge of conspiracy to smuggle firearms into the United States and attempted smuggling. Houston was working New York-based SOS International Ltd. at the time of the 2007 shooting but left the company the next year to work for another defense contractor.

A second man, Michael Henson, was charged with the same smuggling counts and was also charged with making false statements. Court documents do not describe Henson's employer or role in Iraq.

An attorney for Houston did not return a call seeking comment, and court documents didn't list an attorney for Henson. A judge ordered Henson appointed a public defender, but he hasn't been listed as a client by public defenders in Maryland or the area of North Carolina where he was arrested.

Court documents say Houston offered to ship weapons for Henson to Fort Bragg, N.C. and asked Henson to pick up the weapons when they arrived. Henson responded by approving of the plan, according to the indictment.

Houston told one informant that Blackwater guards gave him firearms for disposal after the Nisoor Square shooting, and Houston asked the informant to ship the weapons to the United States, court documents say. In return, the informant could keep two of the guns. The informant declined and reported the matter to military investigators.

Houston told the second informant that "after Blackwater 'got into trouble,' they had to get rid of the firearms so that they didn't get caught with them," court documents say.

Unclear if weapons used in shooting
It's not clear, though, whether the weapons Houston discussed with the informants were used in the shooting, or if they could have been confiscated firearms improperly stashed earlier. Houston told both informants that Blackwater employees had filled a shipping container with firearms they seized from Iraqi insurgents, a possible violation of company policy.

After they were tipped off by the informants, investigators seized eight machine guns and a pistol from an Iraq base that they say Houston intended to smuggle. At that point, Houston claimed he had asked one of the informants to hand the weapons over to authorities.

Two of the firearms seized were AK-47 style rifles — a type favored by insurgents but likely not allowed for use by Blackwater contractors.

"The company has strict policies and procedures in place regarding the possession of firearms by its contractors overseas and they are prohibited from possessing any other than those issued to them by the company or the U.S. government," Tyrrell said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments