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Two ex-Blackwater operatives charged with Afghan murders

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-01-07

Two former Blackwater operatives could face the death penalty after they were indicted by a U.S. court on charges of murder allegedly committed in Afghanistan last year, the U.S. Justice Department announced on Thursday.

AFP - Two former Blackwater employees have been charged with the murder of two Afghans in Kabul last year and could face the death penalty, the Justice Department said Thursday.

Justin Cannon, 27, of Corpus Christi, Texas, and Christopher Drotleff, 29, of Virginia Beach, Virginia, have been charged with second-degree murder following the shooting deaths of the two Afghan nationals.

They were also charged with attempted murder, after a third person was wounded in the Kabul incident on May 5, when Cannon and Drotleff were working as contractors for the Department of Defense in Afghanistan.

Both men, who had provided training to the Afghan army in using and maintaining weapons systems, were arrested Thursday after the 13-count grand jury indictment, the statement added.

They face a total of eight charges each, including knowingly discharging a firearm to commit a crime.

Blackwater, a private security firm which has changed its name to Xe following a series of highly-publicized controversies in Iraq, is headquartered in North Carolina. The two men were employed by Paravant LLC which is a subsidiary of Xe.

The Department of Justice said the incident that led to the charges occurred at the intersection of two roads in the Afghan capital.

The two men who were shot dead were identified as Rahib Mirza Mohammad (also known as Rahib Helaludin) and Romal Mohammad Naiem. But there were few other details of what had happened.

Blackwater was once among the largest security firms operating in Iraq after the US-led invasion of 2003.

One week ago, a federal judge dismissed criminal charges against five Blackwater security guards accused of fatally shooting 14 people in Baghdad in September 2007.

Judge Ricardo Urbina said prosecutors violated the defendants' rights by using incriminating statements they had made under immunity during a State Department probe to build their case.

Blackwater first came under scrutiny on March 31, 2004, when four of its employees were killed by an angry mob in Fallujah, then a Sunni Arab insurgent stronghold.

On September 16, 2007, Blackwater guards opened fire with automatic weapons while escorting an American diplomatic convoy through Baghdad's Nisur Square. Blackwater said their guards had come under attack.

US media further reported this week that two Xe contractors had been among eight people killed in a suicide bombing at Khost base, in eastern Afghanistan, last week.

The reports pointed to a continued close relationship between the CIA and Blackwater.

The firm is believed to have participated in programs to kill top Al-Qaeda terrorists in 2004, and CIA "snatch and grab" missions to capture or kill insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But the Central Intelligence Agency had appeared to distance itself from the firm in recent years.

Date created : 2010-01-07