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More arrests in helicopter downing in Iraq

/ Source: The Associated Press

U.S. forces said Sunday they have arrested four more suspects in the shooting down of a civilian helicopter last week, bringing the number apprehended to 10. All 11 passengers and crew were killed, including one shot by insurgents.

U.S. soldiers from Task Force Baghdad, working with Iraqi security forces, detained the suspects in the past 24 hours, a military statement said. It provided no further details.

Iraqi civilians helped U.S. forces locate the first six suspects, who were captured early Saturday, the military said.

The Russian-made Mi-8 helicopter, on route from Baghdad to Tikrit, was shot down about 12 miles north of the capital on Thursday. The dead included six American bodyguards for U.S. diplomats, three Bulgarian crew members and two security guards from Fiji, officials said.

Claims of responsibility
Two militant groups claimed responsibility for the attack and released video to back their claims. In one video, insurgents are seen capturing and shooting to death the lone survivor, identified as a Bulgarian pilot.

The aircraft was owned by Heli Air of Bulgaria and chartered by Toronto-based SkyLink Aviation Inc.

The six Americans were employed by Blackwater Security Consulting -- a subsidiary of security contractor Blackwater USA of Moyock, North Carolina, which had four employees slain and mutilated by insurgents in Fallujah a year ago.

Iraqi Police and Task Force Baghdad Soldiers apprehended 16 other terror suspects in the Baghdad area during the last 24 hours, the statement said.

They include 11 captured in a U.S. raid in a village north of Baghdad early Sunday, believed to be members of a cell that planned and carried out bombing and mortar attacks.

The remains of the six Americans, three Bulgarians and two Fijians killed were transported to Balad Air Base, and an aircraft recovery team from the 3rd Infantry Division was to move the wreckage to Baghdad International Airport for further inspection, the military said.

Video shows pilot
The first video begins with an unseen cameraman breathing heavily and running with the camera toward burning wreckage. Two bodies are visible, one of them severely charred, nearly all its clothes burned away.

“Look at that filth,” someone says in Arabic.

There are brief glimpses of a man carrying an assault rifle along with the cameraman.

The scene moves to tall grass, where a man with thinning, gray hair and wearing a blue flight suit is lying on his back, the right side of his head bloody. The helicopter’s three-man crew was Bulgarian, and it appeared that the man shot in the video was one of the crew.

“Stand up! Stand up!” the cameraman shouts to him in English.

“I can’t, it’s broken. Give me a hand,” the survivor says in accented English, raising his hands for help. “Give me your hand.”

It appears the militants help pull him to his feet.

“Weapons?” the gunmen shout at him in Arabic.

The cameraman tells the crewman, whose face is visible, to step back.

“Go! Go!” he shouts.

'Carry out God's verdict,' then shooting
The survivor then tries to walk, limping with his back to the insurgents, who say something to him that makes him turn around. He raises his hands to somebody off camera as if gesturing to them to stop what they are about to do.

“Carry out God’s verdict,” someone is heard saying, and the militants shoot the man at point-blank range, continuing even after he falls to the ground. One gunman shouts, “Allahu akbar!”

In their Web statement, the Islamic Army in Iraq said it killed the surviving crewman “in revenge for the Muslims killed in the mosques of Fallujah.” It apparently referred to the Nov. 13 shooting of a wounded Iraqi by an American soldier in a Fallujah mosque during a U.S. offensive in the city.

The chartered flight was believed to be the first civilian aircraft shot down in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion two years ago.

Security guards were bound for Tikrit
The six Americans were headed to Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit for a U.S. diplomatic security detail, their employer confirmed Friday.

The guards “were simply passengers. They were going to Tikrit to do their jobs,” said Blackwater Security Consulting spokesman Chris Bertelli. He declined to give details of the security detail in Tikrit, about 90 miles north of Baghdad.

The bodies of the men, who worked for Moyock-based Blackwater, were being transported back to the United States aboard military aircraft, Bertelli said.

A total of 11 people died in the helicopter crash about 12 miles north of Baghdad on Thursday, including three Bulgarian crew members and a pair of security guards from Fiji.

It was the bloodiest day of the Iraq conflict for Blackwater, which is employed by the U.S. government for tasks ranging from personal security for U.S. diplomats to protection for aid convoys.

Blackwater victims identified
In addition to the six employees aboard the helicopter, a seventh Blackwater guard was killed near Ramadi when a bomb exploded next to one of the company’s armored personnel carriers.

Blackwater released the names of the dead Friday evening. Killed aboard the helicopter were Robert Jason Gore, 23, of Nevada, Iowa; Luke Adam Petrik, 24, of Conneaut, Ohio; Jason Obert, 29, of Fountain, Colo.; Steve McGovern, 24, of Lexington, Ky.; Eric Smith, 31, of Waukesha, Wis.; and David Patterson, 27, of Havelock.

The guard killed near Ramadi was identified as Curtis Hundley, 42, of Kernersville.

At least 18 Blackwater guards have died in Iraq, including four whose slaying and mutilation in Fallujah were captured in graphic news photographs in March 2004. Two of the corpses were hung from a bridge, triggering a bloody three-week siege of the Sunni Muslim city west of Baghdad.

The mother of one of the Fallujah victims, Scott Helvenston, said she fears more private security guards will die in Iraq.

“I have concerns for many of the contractors who are still over there ... because our government seems to be subcontracing out this war, and these companies have no accountability,” said Katy Helvenston-Wettengel of Leesburg, Fla.

She and other relatives of the Fallujah ambush victims are suing Blackwater for wrongful death.

Blackwater is one of many private security contractors working in Iraq, where thousands of civilians with other companies feed U.S. troops, fuel vehicles and train Iraqi police.