Posted: 5/13/2004 6:10:57 AM EDT
U.S. Offered Berg a Flight Out of Iraq
By LARA JAKES JORDAN
WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. government warned a young American to leave Iraq, and offered him a flight out of the country, a month before his grisly beheading was broadcast on an al-Qaida-linked Web site, officials said.
But authorities in Baghdad denied that Nicholas Berg, 26, was held in U.S. custody before he disappeared in early April, despite claims to the contrary by his family. He had been held by Iraqi police for about two weeks and questioned by FBI agents three times.
The final movements of the telecommunications businessman from suburban Philadelphia remain unclear as officials in Washington and Baghdad try to piece together how Berg crossed paths with a group of Islamic militants who savagely decapitated him in a video released Tuesday bearing the title ``Abu Musab al-Zarqawi shown slaughtering an American.'' It referred to an associate of Osama bin Laden believed to be behind a wave of suicide bombings in Iraq.
Berg's body was found Saturday in Baghdad. Two e-mails he sent to his family and friends show he traveled widely and unguarded throughout Iraq, an unsafe practice rarely done by Westerners.
Shortly before Berg's disappearance, he was warned by the FBI that Iraq was too volatile a place for unprotected American civilians and that he could be harmed, a senior FBI official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday.
On April 10, four days after Berg was released from an Iraqi prison, an American diplomat offered to put him on a flight to Jordan, State Department spokeswoman Kelly Shannon said.
But Berg told the diplomat he ``planned to travel overland to Kuwait and would call (his) family from there,'' Shannon said.
Several days later, around April 12, the diplomat received an e-mail from Berg's family in West Chester, Pa., that ``noted he had not been in contact,'' Shannon said. Staff members at the $30-a-night Al-Fanar Hotel in Baghdad told The Associated Press that Berg stayed there for several days until April 10.
Berg's father, Michael Berg, said that although his son wanted to leave Iraq, he refused the flight offer because he thought the travel to the airport would be too dangerous. Attacks had taken place in the areas his son would need to drive through, Michael Berg said.
On April 14, the U.S. consulate sent a private contractor to the Al-Fanar Hotel in Baghdad, where Berg was believed to be staying, to see whether he was still there.
``The people we talked to at the hotel didn't remember him being there,'' Shannon said.
Diplomats then alerted the U.S. military to be on the lookout for him.
In Baghdad, U.S. spokesmen Dan Senor and Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt were quick to offer statements of condolence Wednesday to Berg's family and to draw attention to the barbarity of his death. But Senor said that ``to my knowledge'' Berg was not affiliated with any U.S. or coalition organization, nor was he ever in U.S. custody.
Iraqi police arrested Berg in Mosul on March 24 because local authorities believed he may have been involved in ``suspicious activities,'' Senor said. He refused to elaborate, except to confirm that the Americans were aware Berg was in custody.
``U.S. authorities were notified,'' he said. ``The FBI visited Mr. Berg on three occasions and determined that he was not involved with any criminal or terrorist activity.''
Berg was released April 6 and ``was advised to leave the country,'' Senor added. Instead, Berg checked into the Baghdad hotel.
Senor referred questions about the reason for Berg's detention to the Iraqi police. In Mosul, however, police told the AP they had no knowledge of the Berg case. Police official Safwan Talal said the only American arrested there in recent months was a woman who was released soon afterward.
Since Iraq remains under U.S. military occupation, it seems unlikely that the Iraqi police would have held Berg, or any other American, for such a length of time without at least the tacit approval of U.S. authorities.
``The Iraqi police do not tell the FBI what to do, the FBI tells the Iraqi police what to do,'' Michael Berg told the AP. ``Who do they think they're kidding?''
The younger Berg told his family that U.S. officials took custody of him soon after his arrest and he was not allowed to make phone calls or contact a lawyer, his father said.
Kimmitt said U.S. forces kept tabs on Berg during his confinement to make sure he was being fed and properly treated because ``he was an American citizen.''
But the three FBI visits suggest American authorities were concerned about more than Berg's well-being. They may have had their own suspicions about what the young American was doing in Iraq.
During a briefing Wednesday, Senor confirmed that Berg had registered with the U.S. Consulate in Baghdad but insisted he ``was not a U.S. government employee, he has no affiliation with the coalition and to our knowledge he has no affiliation with any Coalition Provisional Authority contractor.''
He also said Berg ``was at no time under the jurisdiction or detention of coalition forces.''
Staffers at the Baghdad hotel, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Berg stayed in room 602 from April 6 until April 10. One of them said Berg lived in the same room during an earlier visit, which the employee could not remember.
An employee described Berg as a ``nice guy'' who ``always smiled and said hello,'' unlike other foreign guests. ``Once he told me, 'I'd like to learn Arabic.'''
``He was very sportive - had muscles - and liked the Internet,'' another hotel worker recalled. ``He usually left the hotel in the morning and returned late, around 10 p.m., usually carrying a sack of beer and mineral water.''
Associated Press writers Robert H. Reid in Baghdad, Curt Anderson in Washington and Jason Straziuso in Philadelphia contributed to this report.
I just read this in the news. I wish he would have taken them up on their offer.
I'm sorry to say this but... Darwin award candidate? Who doesn't know the probable result of traveling alone, unarmed, and as a civilian in Iraq for Americans? I also question how could this gentleman believe to think he could rebuild cell towers by himself with no shop, base of operations, crew, or any contacts. There is far more to this story than what we've read here. Particularly his motives for being there.
rebuilding cell phone towers....cell phones are used as detonators for IEDs.....young American with wacky leftist parents, wandering alone in Iraq....I'm sensing a motif here......
a walker lindh type?
1. Being alone: Not smart at all
2. Being unarmed: Even less smart
This qualifies him as a Johnny Walker type? Darwin Winner, maybe, but Walker? C'mon, fellas.
He was pro-Bush and pro-war.
a very sad ending to a life
When the gov't makes you an offer you can't refuse, don't refuse it.
his father said this: HE LEFT THE BOY SCOUTS BECAUSE HE REFUSED TO HANDLE A GUN & GO TARGET SHOOTING WITH THEM.
the kid simply shares similarities with that goofy broad that got ran over by the bulldozer in palestine. the major difference between these two extreme do-gooders is that BERG was actually doing something productive. he didn't deserve to have his head cut off. but it seems he had many opportunities to prevent it.