YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

The World

Marine Dies in Kuwait Attack

Persian Gulf: A second from Camp Pendleton is hurt. Two assailants are killed in return fire.


DOHA, Qatar — Gunmen opened fire Tuesday on Marines conducting an urban warfare exercise on a Kuwaiti island, killing one American and wounding another. The attack highlighted growing tensions in the Arab world as the United States prepares for a possible attack on Iraq.

The Marines, based at Camp Pendleton, returned fire with their M-16s and killed the two gunmen. Kuwait declared the attackers to be terrorists but did not immediately tie them to a specific group.

Pentagon officials said security would be increased at all U.S. bases in the region but did not say whether they regarded the shooting as a terrorist attack.

Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with other senior U.S. military officials and spoke by phone with commanders in the region to discuss other possible responses, a Pentagon spokesman said.

The attack was highly unusual in Kuwait, a close U.S. ally since the 1991 Persian Gulf War. More than a decade later, most Kuwaitis remain supportive of the relationship. However, analysts said that even in Kuwait, moderate Muslims feel caught between their more radical brethren and the United States.

The Kuwaiti government identified the gunmen as Anas Kandari, born in 1981, and Jassem Hajiri, born in 1976, and described them as Kuwaiti residents and Islamic extremists.

The Interior Ministry said it would "not allow anyone to undermine the country's security." Friends and associates of the men were being rounded up for questioning.

Thirty-one unarmed Kuwaiti civilians in the area of the exercise on Faylakah island, 10 miles east of Kuwait City, were taken into custody by the Marines as witnesses and turned over to local authorities for questioning, said a Navy spokesman in Bahrain, the U.S. military's regional hub for Gulf operations.

"The two gunmen were in a vehicle that got close to the training," said the spokesman, Lt. Christopher Davis. "They got close, jumped out and opened fire without any warning or provocation."

Davis said the Marines were using dummy rounds when they were attacked and that they shifted to live rounds to defend themselves. Three AK-47 assault rifles and a cache of ammunition were found in the attackers' pickup truck, officials said.

The two Marines who were shot were taken by helicopter to a military hospital used by U.S. personnel on the Kuwaiti mainland, where one died during surgery. The Marine's name was withheld pending notification of relatives. The other Marine suffered an arm wound that was not considered life-threatening, Davis said.

"We mourn the loss of one of our brothers today, and we wish our injured Marine a speedy recovery," said 1st Lt. Carrie Batson, spokeswoman for the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit from Camp Pendleton. "However, we stand ready and able to continue our mission."

The 150 Marines in the training exercise were withdrawn from the island after the shooting and sent to an encampment in the desert.

The Marines were among 1,000 combat troops from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit who are in Kuwait for a monthlong training exercise called Eager Mace.

The exercise, including live-fire training in the desert frontier between Iraq and Kuwait, had been scheduled for months. But it has taken on added significance and received more media attention in light of President Bush's threat to use military force against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

The Marine exercise is the latest show of U.S. military muscle in the region. As tensions with Iraq have mounted, the U.S. has shifted weaponry and munitions from bases in Qatar and Saudi Arabia to bases in Kuwait in anticipation of a possible land offensive in Iraq.

Among the equipment being positioned are tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles, the kind of gear used by Army combat troops.

In addition, senior defense officials say elite special operations troops last month began training alongside CIA units that could be used in covert counter-terrorism operations within Iraq.

For much of the last decade, the Pentagon has based more than 20,000 U.S. military personnel within close striking distance of Iraq, along with heavy equipment for at least four armored brigades, as well as Patriot antimissile batteries to protect them.

In recent months, the Pentagon has moved or announced plans to move an additional 10,000 troops to the region, officially to conduct routine training exercises. But military officials acknowledge that the added troops may remain in the area for longer than their exercise schedules call for.

A leading Kuwaiti intellectual said in an interview that the gunmen might have been motivated by anger at the United States for its policies on Afghanistan, Iraq or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"The incident cannot be cut off from its context: the escalation between the United States and the Islamists around the world," said Abdullah Sahar, a political scientist at Kuwait University. "That has really weakened the moderate Islamists and empowered the radicals and the ignorant."

Los Angeles Times Articles