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Iraqi forces detain 45 crossing from Iran
Updated: 2004-12-19 15:32

Iraqi police detained 45 men who illegally entered the country from neighboring Iran, and American troops said Sunday they captured eight Iraqis fleeing the scene of a roadside bombing.

A picture made avilable by the Iraqi Special Tribunal (IST) shows Iraqi police escorting Sultan Hashim Ahmad, Saddam Hussein's former defense minister, to attend an investigative hearing in Baghdad. [AFP]

Also, insurgents claiming to represent three Iraqi militant groups issued a videotape saying they had abducted 10 Iraqis working for an American security and reconstruction company.

The 45 detainees were captured Saturday at Mandali, on the Iranian border 60 miles east of Baghdad, police said. They had no identity documents but claimed to be Muslim pilgrims from Iran, Afghanistan or Bangladesh. They ranged in age from early 20s to 60s.

U.S. soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division detained eight men fleeing a roadside blast late Saturday near Beiji, about 150 miles north of Baghdad.

Master Sgt. Robert Powell said the soldiers captured the men after witnessing the explosion, but said it was unclear if the patrol was the target. No Americans were hurt.

At least two unexploded homemade bombs were found in same area, the military said.

Roadside bombs are regularly used against U.S.-led coalition forces to deadly effect by anti-American insurgents.

The insurgents on the tape said they represent the Mujahedeen Army, the Black Banner Brigade and the Mutassim Bellah Brigade, all previously unknown groups. At least four had their faces covered by Arab head scarves and carried machine guns. Nine blindfolded hostages could be seen lined up against a stone wall and a 10th lying in a bed, apparently wounded.

The militants said they would kill the hostages if the company, Sandi Group, does not leave the country. They also threatened more attacks on its Iraqi operations.

Chad Knauss, an American and deputy chief operations officer of Sandi Group in Iraq, declined to comment on the claims. The company, based in Washington, employs 7,000 in Iraq.

Meanwhile, two Egyptians detained earlier this week by Iraqi and U.S. troops have been released, a diplomat said Sunday. Farouk Riyadh Mabrouk, head of the Egyptian diplomatic mission in Baghdad, said the two men who are employed by the Egyptian-owned cell phone company Iraqna, were turned over to Egyptian authorities late Saturday.

When asked why the men were seized from their Baghdad home on Wednesday, Mabrouk would only say: "It was a big misunderstanding."

U.S. and Iraqi authorities have not commented on why the men were detained.

During the late night raid, U.S. and Iraqi forces also seized thousands of dollars, 15 personal computers and a range of communications equipment.

On Saturday, Ali Hassan al-Majid, the former general known as "Chemical Ali," and Saddam Hussein's last defense minister, Sultan Hashim Ahmad, appeared in the first in a series of interrogatory hearings held to gather evidence for eventual trials of Iraq's one-time Baathist leaders.

Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said Tuesday that the 11 detained Saddam regime figures, plus the deposed dictator himself, would start appearing before court in the coming week moving forward with the trials ahead of crucial national elections set for Jan. 30.

Al-Majid and Ahmad were accompanied by defense lawyers when they were questioned by an investigative judge in relation to crimes committed during Saddam's 35-year reign, which ended after U.S.-led forces toppled his regime last year.

Raad al-Juhyi, the head of a judicial panel quizzing the detainees, said they will face questioning over Saddam's Anfal campaign, a depopulation scheme that killed and expelled hundreds of thousands of Kurds from northern Iraq during the 1980s. The offensive includes the 1988 Halabja chemical weapons attacks that al-Majid has been accused of ordering.

The judges will also investigate the role of the detainees in the bloody quelling of a 1991 Shiite uprising following the U.S.-led Gulf War to force occupying Iraqi forces out of neighboring Kuwait, plus the illegal imprisonment and executions of political opponents.

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