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Kuwait: Man Backed Al Qaeda

Suspect has confessed to killing U.S. worker and had been the focus of a probe for possible links to the terrorist network, nation says.

January 24, 2003|Sam Howe Verhovek | Times Staff Writer

KUWAIT CITY -- A Kuwaiti man arrested in connection with the deadly ambush of two American military contractors was described by Kuwaiti and Saudi officials Thursday as an Al Qaeda sympathizer who had been investigated for possible ties to the terrorist network.

The accused gunman, 25-year-old Sami Mohammed Marzouq Obeid al Mutairi, a civil servant, was detained Wednesday at the border by Saudi officials, the Kuwaiti Interior Ministry said in a statement Thursday night.

He is accused of firing a hail of bullets from a Kalashnikov rifle, killing Michael Pouliot, 46, and wounding David Caraway, 38, two civilian software contractors with a San Diego company. The pair were en route Tuesday to Camp Doha, the principal American military base in Kuwait.

Al Mutairi "confessed to the crime of assassinating the American citizen and injuring another," the Kuwaiti government statement said, adding that the crime weapon and ammunition had been found at the defendant's workplace. The defendant confessed to "believing in the ideas of the Al Qaeda organization," the government said.

Officials here also said that at least one other suspect, whom they did not name, was being sought.

The shooting jangled the already frayed nerves of Westerners in Kuwait, where the government strongly supports the United States. Most citizens are exceedingly friendly to Americans, whom they thank for rescuing the country from its 1990-91 occupation by neighboring Iraq.

Dozens of Kuwaitis braved unusual rain showers here Thursday morning to attend an informal memorial service and lay flowers for Pouliot at the spot where he was killed. The government put up a billboard Thursday at a major Kuwait City intersection, which proclaimed: "Much Obliged to America and Our Allies: God Bless You All."

And Crown Prince Sheik Saad al Abdullah al Sabah sent a condolence letter to President Bush denouncing the "terrorist act," reported the government-run Kuwait News Agency.

But that outpouring of sympathy did not blunt questions over why Kuwaiti police had been unable to head off the killing Al Mutairi is alleged to have committed.

Al Mutairi had been interviewed in the past for possible links to Al Qaeda and became a suspect "in the first hours after the crime was committed," according to the Interior Ministry's statement.

The ministry did not elaborate on the previous investigation, and officials said they would have no comment beyond the statement, which praised Saudi security officials for their "fruitful coordination and cooperation" in detaining Al Mutairi.

But some officials, speaking privately, said Al Mutairi was arrested after a sweep of suspected Al Qaeda sympathizers yielded information that he had fled his home for Saudi Arabia shortly after the shooting.

The white pickup truck he drove matched the description provided by witnesses of the vehicle that raced away from the shooting scene.

Despite official support for the United States, the killing pointed up the visceral anti-American sentiment which prevails in some quarters here and elsewhere in the region, where many feel the United States is anti-Arab and anti-Muslim.

Caraway, recovering from the wounds he sustained when hit by at least six bullets, was in stable condition Thursday at Kuwait's Al Razi Hospital.

In a television interview Thursday with ABC News, Caraway said he remembered little other than a sudden onslaught of bullets.

"Couldn't see anything, anyone," he said. "They hit us with the first volley."

A memorial service for Pouliot at Camp Doha was closed to the general public. There are thousands of American troops at the base, but access is restricted because of heightened security after the shooting, and troops are allowed to leave only for essential business, military officials say.

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