U.S. investigation of mosque
killing is expanded
NBC News and news services; Nov. 17, 2004
BAGHDAD, Iraq - As U.S. and Iraqi officials expressed concerns
and regrets about the fatal shooting by a U.S. Marine of a wounded and
apparently unarmed man in a Fallujah mosque, the U.S. military said
Wednesday it is investigating whether other wounded Iraqis in the
mosque were similarly killed.
American and Iraqi authorities have been trying to stem outrage
over the shootings among Iraqis, particularly the Sunni Arab minority,
and Arabs across the region. U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte expressed
regret over the shooting but said Wednesday it should not undermine
U.S. efforts to remove guerrillas from the city.
The U.S. military said Tuesday it was investigating after pool
video footage by NBC showed a Marine shooting a wounded man lying in a
Fallujah mosque during an operation Saturday of the 3rd Battalion, 1st
Military investigators also are looking into whether more than
one wounded insurgent was shot in the mosque, said Maj. Francis
Piccoli, a spokesman for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.
Two others had fatal gunshot wounds
Two other men visible on the NBC video appear to be suffering
from what the network described as fresh and fatal gunshot wounds.
Meanwhile a statement from Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s office said
that the leader of Iraq’s interim government “is very concerned by
allegations of an illegal killing by multinational forces in Fallujah.
It said Allawi had broached the matter with the commander of the
multinational force in Iraq, Gen. George Casey.
“Gen. Casey has assured the prime minister that an urgent
inquiry is under way, and that he will share its findings with the
Iraqi government in full and with complete transparency,” the statement
said. “Unlike others, the prime minister will await the outcome of the
investigation before commenting any further on this incident.”
Negroponte said “no one can be happy” about the incident, “but
the important point is that the individual in question will be dealt
“The matter is being looked into and whatever measures are
necessary under our system of military justice I know will be taken,”
U.S. envoy calls killing an isolated incident
“But I don’t think that (the incident) in any way is a
reflection on the quality and caliber of absolutely fine young
servicemen and women we have serving here in Iraq,” he said during his
first visit to Sadr City, a large Shiite Muslim district of Baghdad.
The shooting occurred when a Marine unit entered the mosque and
found five men wounded in fighting at the site the day before, when
another Marine unit clashed with gunmen apparently using the mosque to
fire from, according to NBC’s Kevin Sites, the pool correspondent who
took the footage.
In the video, as the cameraman moved into the mosque, a Marine
can be heard shouting obscenities in the background, yelling that one
of the men was only pretending to be dead. The Marine then raises his
rifle toward an Iraqi lying on the floor of the mosque and shoots the
Sites, in the first report on the incident on Monday, said the man who
was killed didn’t appear to be armed or threatening in any way, with no
weapons visible in the mosque.
Earlier in the footage, as the Marine unit that Sites was
accompanying approached the mosque, gunfire can be heard from inside.
Marines who were already in the mosque emerge, and a lieutenant in the
approaching unit asks if there were insurgents inside and if the
Marines had shot any of them. An exiting Marine can be heard responding
affirmatively. The lieutenant then asks if they were armed, and the
Two men seen slumped against wall
After the Marines that Sites accompanied entered the mosque, the
video showed two other men slumped by a wall. Sites’ account said the
men, who were hurt in the previous day’s attack, had been shot again by
the Marines on Saturday.
The Marine seen shooting the insurgent had been wounded in the
face a day earlier and quickly returned to action, Sites reported. The
Marine has not been identified.
Another Marine in the man's unit was killed the previous day by the
booby-trapped body of an insurgent, a fact that international legal
experts said could provide the Marine with a defense if charges are
filed against him. A key issue was whether the injured man was a
prisoner at the time, they said.
International legal experts said protection of injured
combatants once they are out of action is a basic rule in warfare but
that the Marine shown in the video may have acted in self-defense.
Charles Heyman, a British infantry veteran and senior defense analyst
with Jane’s Consultancy Group in London, defended the Marine, saying
soldiers are taught that the enemy “is at his most dangerous when he is
Other experts contacted by The Associated Press were careful to
avoid a public judgment because of the dangerous and uncertain
situation in Fallujah, where U.S. troops were still fighting
“It’s clearly recognized that people in combat situations are
under enormous strain,” International Red Cross spokesman
Florian Westphal said in Geneva. “Obviously, we were not on the spot,
so we cannot judge the precise circumstances of what was being shown
Westphal said the Geneva Conventions are clear: Protection of wounded
combatants once they are out of action is an absolute requirement.
However, the status of the wounded man was unclear. A different
Marine unit had come under fire from the mosque on Friday. Those
Marines stormed the building, killing 10 men and wounding five,
according to Sites. He said Marines treated the wounded and left them.
The same five men were in the mosque Saturday when Marines from
another unit arrived. Westphal said he couldn’t say for sure from NBC’s
account whether the man was a prisoner.
Heyman said there is a danger that a wounded enemy may try to
detonate a hidden firearm or a grenade, and if the man made the
slightest move “in my estimation they would be justified in shooting
No matter what the eventual finding of the investigation, the
incident could cause major political problems for Allawi's government
and his U.S. backers at a time when Iraqi authorities are seeking to
contain a backlash among Sunnis to the invasion of the former insurgent
stronghold of Fallujah.
American and Iraqi authorities tried to prevent rage from
spreading among Sunnis, many of whom watched dramatic footage of the
shooting that aired throughout the day on Al-Jazeera television, a
Qatar-based satellite station.
‘Was he a fighter?’
“Look at this old man who was slain by them,” said Ahmed Khalil,
40, as he watched the video in his Baghdad shop. “Was he a fighter? Was
anybody who was killed inside this mosque a fighter? Where are
their weapons? I don’t know what to say.”
It was unclear to what extent other Iraqis, particularly the
majority Shiite Muslims, cared about the shooting.
Maysoun Hirmiz, 36, a Christian merchant in Baghdad, said she
was not satisfied by an announcement by the U.S. military that it had
removed the Marine from the battlefield and will investigate whether he
acted in self-defense.
“They will say or do the same thing they did with the soldiers
who committed the abuses against Iraqi detainees in Abu Ghraib prison,
and they are still free, enjoying their lives while they destroyed
other peoples’ lives,” Hirmiz said.
The central figures who allegedly carried out the physical abuse
and sexual humiliation of inmates at the notorious prison west of
Baghdad are currently on trial, facing trial or have already been
The Abu Ghraib scandal, which erupted last spring when photos of
the abuse became public, generated a worldwide wave of revulsion that
raised questions about the treatment of Muslim prisoners in Iraq,
Afghanistan and elsewhere as part of the Bush administration’s war on
NBC News correspondent Jim Miklaszewski and the Associated Press
contributed to this report.