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Iraq Transition

11 die in helicopter crash

Militants' video shows apparent execution of survivor


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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The Islamic Army in Iraq claimed responsibility for shooting down a helicopter Thursday and killing all 11 people onboard -- one of them apparently executed after surviving the crash.

Among the dead were six American employees of the security firm Blackwater USA, three Bulgarian crew members and two Fijian security guards.

In a video purportedly showing the aftermath of the attack, a lone survivor is found lying in a ditch by insurgents.

The video zooms out, showing the man in the middle of the frame, and then the cameraman gives the order to shoot. The victim turns toward his killer and shots are fired, bullets strike him repeatedly, even after he falls to the ground.

"We are applying God's law," a voice says in Arabic.

Before he is shot to death, the man tells insurgents, "My leg is broken" but he is forced to stand.

The footage does not show the helicopter actually being shot down.

The video, which carried the group's logo, was posted on Web sites used by Islamic groups. Arabic-language network Al-Jazeera aired portions of it.

The helicopter was ferrying passengers from Baghdad to Tikrit, and was to have picked up people for a return trip to the capital when it went down north of Baghdad.

The Bulgarian Defense Ministry said missile fire downed the chopper, and U.S. military sources suspect that was the case.

The crash left charred debris strewn across an empty field north of Baghdad, said Paul Greenaway, a spokesman for SkyLink Air and Logistic Support, an air charter company in Iraq.

State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said the six Americans worked for Blackwater Security Consulting. He said they were assisting the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security in Iraq. That unit protects diplomats, including those in Iraq.

Ereli said, "We are deeply saddened by these deaths."

Blackwater provided details about the operation, saying "the commercial helicopter" was "owned and operated by Heli-Air Services, a Bulgarian subcontractor to SkyLink Air and Logistic Support under contract to Blackwater in support of a Department of Defense contract."

The Islamic Army in Iraq has carried out multiple attacks in Iraq and taken several hostages, including an Italian journalist who was beheaded. The militant group also took two French journalists hostage but released them.

Thursday's incident raises questions about the vulnerability of commercial aircraft that do not have the same defense capabilities of military aircraft.

Private charters and commercial aircraft have been flying in and out of Baghdad. There have been hopes that some of the transport work in Iraq could be shifted to commercial aircraft.

Bulgaria said the three crew members were civilians, not part of Bulgaria's military contingent. Their identities were listed as commanders Lubomir Kostov and Georgi Naieeno and Stoyan Anchev, a board engineer.

The identities of the other dead were not immediately available.

Blackwater declined to release the employees' identities until next of kin have been notified.

'Sad day for the Blackwater family'

In a separate incident near Ramadi Thursday, a roadside bomb went off next to a Blackwater armored personnel carrier, killing one of its security contractors and wounding four others.

"This is a very sad day for the Blackwater family," Blackwater USA President Gary Jackson said in a written statement. "We lost a number of our friends to attacks by terrorists in Iraq, and our thoughts and prayers go out to their family members."

Eighteen Blackwater employees have died since the war in Iraq began, the company said. The brutal deaths of four of them occurred March 31, 2004.

The Blackwater contractors were killed in Falluja, a volatile city west of Baghdad. Chilling news footage at the time showed two of the contractors strung up on a bridge over the Euphrates River.

Allawi survives attempt

Another Islamic group, this one linked to the most wanted man in Iraq, claimed responsibility Thursday for an assassination attempt against interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.

Allawi was not injured in the assassination attempt Wednesday night, but several guards and police officers were killed when a car bomb exploded at a checkpoint, said Thair al-Naqib, a spokesman for the interim prime minister.

Several Islamist Web sites published a statement of responsibility for the attack from al Qaeda in Iraq, the group led by Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

"Our brother managed to kill a lot," the statement said, "and we tell Allawi that if the arrows missed him this time, we have plenty of arrows."

The attack occurred on the main road leading to the Baghdad headquarters of Allawi's political party, the Iraqi National Accord.

The United States is offering a $25 million reward for al-Zarqawi, who is accused of fueling the insurgency in Iraq. He is wanted in connection with the beheadings of Western hostages as well as Iraqis.

Al-Zarqawi changed his group's name to Al Qaeda in Iraq from Unification and Jihad.

Dozens of bodies found

Fifty-seven bodies have been recovered from the Tigris River in the Suwayra area, more than 25 miles (40 kilometers) southeast of the capital, a Baghdad police official said.

The corpses have been pulled from the river over the past two weeks; they weren't found all at once, he said.

On Wednesday, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani indicated that bodies found in the Tigris were thought to be people who reportedly had been held hostage in Madain.

"More than 50 bodies have been brought out from the Tigris, and we have the full names of those who were killed and those criminals who committed these crimes," Talabani said.

Shiite Muslim officials claimed last week that Sunni militants kidnapped dozens of Shiites from Madain, but Iraqi forces found no captives when they searched the area over the weekend.

The police official said it isn't known if the bodies were connected to the Madain allegations.

Police said that authorities found bodies in the river caught by a dam from April 6 until Wednesday. Women and children were among the bodies, but authorities have identified only one corpse.

Most of the bodies were decayed, making it difficult to determine identities, the police official said.

Other developments

  • Two U.S. Marines were killed Wednesday in Ramadi when a bomb went off while they were carrying out combat operations, multinational forces said. Both Marines were assigned to the 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force. Their names were not provided.
  • An American, a Canadian and an Australian died in an insurgent attack en route to Baghdad International Airport. The attackers used "small arms," said a release from the British security firm, Edinburgh Risk.
  • CNN's Caroline Faraj, Ayman Mohyeldin, Kianne Sadeq, Barbara Starr and Mohammed Tawfeeq and journalist Venelin Petkov contributed to this report.


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