Details emerge in alleged atrocity by U.S. troops
Fifteen-year-old Abeer Qasim Hamza was afraid, her mother confided in a neighbor.
As pretty as she was young, the girl had attracted the unwelcome attention
of U.S. soldiers manning a checkpoint that the girl had to pass through almost
daily in their village in the south-central city of Mahmoudiya, her mother told
Abeer told her mother often in her last days that the soldiers had made advances
toward her, a neighbor, Omar Janabi, said this weekend, recounting a conversation
he said he had with the girl's mother, Fakhriyah, on March 10.
Fakhriyah feared the Americans might come for her daughter at night, at their
home. She asked her neighbor if Abeer might sleep at his house, with the women
Janabi said he agreed. Then, "I tried to reassure her, remove some of
her fear," Janabi said. "I told her, the Americans would not do such
Abeer did not live to take up the offer of shelter at Janabi's home.
Instead, attackers came to the girl's house the next day, apparently separating
Abeer from her mother, father and 7-year-old sister.
Janabi and others knowledgeable about the incident said they believed the attackers
raped Abeer in another room. Medical officials who handled the bodies said the
girl had been raped, but they did not elaborate.
Before leaving, the attackers fatally shot the four family members —
two of Abeer's brothers had been away at school — and attempted to set
Abeer's body on fire, according to Janabi, another neighbor who spoke on condition
of anonymity, the mayor of Mahmoudiya and a hospital administrator with knowledge
of the death certificates and of the case overall.
The U.S. military said last week that authorities were investigating allegations
of a rape and killings in Mahmoudiya by soldiers of the 502nd Infantry Regiment,
part of the 4th Infantry Division.
The mayor of Mahmoudiya, Mouyad Fadhil Saif, said Sunday that the case was
being investigated by the U.S. military as an alleged atrocity.
Janabi was one of the first people to arrive at the house after the attack,
he said Saturday, speaking at the home of local tribal leaders. He said he found
Abeer sprawled dead in a corner, her hair and a pillow next to her consumed
by fire, and her dress pushed up to her neck.
"I was sure from the first glance that she had been raped," he said.
Despite the reassurances he had given the girl's mother earlier, Janabi said,
"I wasn't surprised what had happened, when I found that the suspicion
of the mother was correct."
The U.S. military has not identified the victims. U.S. military officials contacted
this weekend said they did not know the names of the people involved or most
other details of the case.
The military official pointed to one discrepancy in the accounts. Preliminary
information in the military investigation put the age of the alleged rape victim
at 20, rather than 15, as reported by her neighbors, officials and hospital
records and officials in Mahmoudiya.
U.S. soldiers at the scene initially ascribed the killings to Sunni Arab insurgents
active in the area, the U.S. military and local residents said. That puzzled
villagers, who knew the family was Sunni, Janabi said.
Three months after the incident, two soldiers of the 502nd came forward to
say that soldiers of the unit were responsible, a U.S. military official said
last week. The U.S. military began an investigation the next day, the official
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