Four Arrested In Nick Berg Beheading, Two Later Released

(BAGHDAD, Iraq, May 21st, 2004, 11:30 a.m.) -- A U.S. commander in Iraq says two of the four people detained in the Nick Berg killing have been released.

Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt says the other two are still being questioned. Berg was the American civilian who was shown on video being beheaded by masked militants.

Kimmitt told reporters in Baghdad that the suspects were detained by coalition forces during a raid Wednesday in the capital city.

An Iraqi source had earlier said they were captured a week ago by Iraqi police north of Baghdad. Kimmitt didn't give details about the suspects. He says their arrests were prompted by Iraqi tips.

The suspects were former members of Saddam Hussein's Fedayeen paramilitary organization, the Iraqi security official said on condition of anonymity. Iraqi police arrested them on May 14 in a house in Salaheddin province, north of Baghdad. The province includes Tikrit, Saddam's hometown.

The group that was involved in the killing of Berg was led by Yasser al-Sabawi, a nephew of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi security official said. He said American intelligence had asked Iraqi authorities to hand over the suspects, but they were still in Iraqi hands.

Al-Sabawi was not among those arrested, the Iraqi official said.

Police intelligence agents arrested the suspects as they arrived to "plot other major operations," the official said without elaborating. Four suspects had arrived early for the 7 p.m. meeting and were inside the house, waiting for a fifth associate who escaped arrest, he said.

Police seized weapons and explosives at the site. The Iraqi official said the informant who tipped off authorities was killed by unidentified gunmen the day after the arrests.

American officials have said they believe Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian wanted for allegedly organizing attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq on behalf of al-Qaida, personally carried out Berg's killing.

On Tuesday, Interior Minister Samir Shaker Mahmoud al-Sumeidi refused to comment on reports of arrests in the Berg case.

The body of Berg, 26, was found May 8 near a highway overpass in Baghdad. He was last seen on April 10 when he left his Baghdad hotel.

A video posted May 11 on an al-Qaeda-linked Web site showed a bound Berg in an orange jumpsuit. He was sitting in front of five men, their faces masked, as one read an anti-American text.

After pushing Berg to the floor, the men severed his head with a knife and held it up for the camera. They said his killing was in response to the abuse of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)