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Report: Blackwater to be charged over Baghdad shooting

US officials are expected to announce criminal charges against Blackwater contractors over the 2007 shooting of 17 civilians in Baghdad, media reports say.

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REUTERS - U.S. officials expect to announce criminal
charges soon against Blackwater security guards over
a shooting in Iraq last year that killed 17 civilians and strained
U.S.-Iraqi relations, law enforcement sources said on
Friday.


The sources, who declined to be identified, said details of
the charges could be announced as early as Monday.


A federal grand jury in Washington has been hearing
evidence in secret about the shooting by the private security
firm's guards as they escorted a convoy of U.S. diplomats
through Baghdad on Sept. 16, 2007.


The charges would come after more than a year of FBI
investigations in one of the most high-profile cases remaining
before President George W. Bush leaves office next month.


North Carolina-based Blackwater, the largest security
contractor in Iraq, has said its guards acted lawfully and in
self-defense after their motorcade came under fire in the
chaotic incident. It has cooperated in the investigation.


The guards, U.S. military veterans hired to protect U.S.
diplomats overseas, were responding to a car bombing when
shooting erupted in a crowded Baghdad intersection.


The Iraqi government has said the guards deliberately
killed the 17 civilians and an Iraqi investigation said there
was no provocation for the guards to have opened fire.


The shooting enraged the Iraqi government, which wanted to
put the contractors under Iraqi legal jurisdiction. Iraqis also
were upset in April when the State Department renewed
Blackwater's contract to protect U.S. personnel in Baghdad.


The incident set off debate in Washington about the use of
private contractors in war zones.


Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd declined to comment.
Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell declined to comment and
said she had no information about any charges.


CNN reported five guards have been indicted and a sixth was
in plea negotiations. The exact charges are not publicly known
because the indictments remain under seal, it said.


ABC reported the five guards have been told to surrender to
the FBI by Monday to face federal manslaughter and assault
charges. The investigation revealed that two guards did most of
the shooting, ABC said.


A grant of limited immunity by State Department
investigators to several guards in exchange for their sworn
statements right after the shooting complicated efforts to
bring charges, Justice Department officials have said.


If those guards are charged, U.S. prosecutors must show
they did not rely on their statements and used other evidence.


Defense lawyers are expected to bring various court
challenges in seeking dismissal of the charges.
 

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