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1-7 Cavalry detains weapons dealers

Army News Service

Release Date: 5/10/2004

By Cpl. Bill Putnam

AL RASHID DISTRICT, Baghdad (Army News Service, May 10, 2004) -- Three men suspected of arms dealing were taken into custody by 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry during an extensive pre-dawn operation May 4.

The three men, all brothers, were detained for their alleged involvement in anti-coalition activities, according to Lt. Col. James Salter, 1-7 Cav. commander. He said the small business operated by the brothers had been a suspected location for weapons deals, as well as an anti-coalition meeting place.

"There had been reports of 15 to 20 individuals meeting there on occasion, planning anti-Coalition activities," Salter said.

Besides detaining the brothers, 1-7 troopers found evidence supporting their suspicions. One SKS assault rifle, six AK-47 magazines, and a large amount of Iraqi and U.S. money was found in one home. Several documents -- including a receipt for an $84,000 weapons transaction - could tie the men, especially the youngest brother, to illegal weapons dealing. A small pistol was also found.

Troop A arrested the men, searched the homes and their business, a small furniture factory. Troop C, with a platoon of combat engineers from Company B, 8th Engineer Battalion, and a platoon from the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps' 304th Battalion, searched a nearby amusement park for weapons caches.

Salter said the raid and subsequent searches were successful. Surprise aided 1-7 Cav. on this operation.

The troopers of Apache Troop found the first man at his home asleep. From there they moved to the business a short walk away. The troopers talked to the man and found out his brother, who lived in a different home, had the keys to the business. A trooper used a pair of bolt cutters to enter the business.

Apache Troop moved to the second man's home. The two other brothers of the trio were taken into custody there.

The search turned up a lot. Locked up in a cabinet were the SKS rifle, the AK-47 magazines, the posters and photos of Saddam Hussein and the receipts.

A translator pointed out to Salter a "chemical guy" was in one of the photos.

"You mean 'Chemical Ali?'" Salter asked.

Chemical Ali, or Ali Hassan al-Majid, is a cousin of now-deposed dictator Saddam Hussein and was a general in the old Iraqi army. Majid is thought to have fired chemical weapons into the Kurdish areas of Iraq in 1988. He was the king of spades in the deck of cards issued last year by the Army.

"Yeah, that guy who fired chemicals during that war," the translator said.

The receipts recorded transactions for a lot of weapons, Salter said. Rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns and hand grenades were all listed in the inventory of transactions, he said.

"As a matter of fact, a large sum of hand grenades . 5,000," he added.

The largest receipt they've found so far was for an $84,000 transaction, Salter noted, but the receipt did not describe what weapons were bought.

In the search of the amusement park, several shallow holes along a wall were found. The engineers broke out shovels and dug into the holes. Lying around one hole were some old Iraqi army helmets. The Soldiers eventually found 20 of them and a few protective mask filters.

"They were just sitting out there in the open," said Spc. Donald Nachman, a combat engineer in Bravo, 8th Eng.

As for the overall mission, Salter believes catching the three men will eventually take out an anti-coalition insurgent cell. He said two of the brothers might be involved in the insurgency, but if they aren't, then they're aware of their brother's activities.

The men claimed ignorance of their brother's activities during the search. They never saw him, they said. They told the Soldiers that they just worked and went home.

"Around here, that's bull," Salter said. "The Iraqi families here are close together. In these communities, neighbors know exactly what other neighbors are doing. So I find it hard to believe that a guy who's living with the guy doesn't know what activities he's up to."

1-7's commander said the mission was also a success because records of large transactions were found in the home.

"Right now we didn't take any weapons off the street," Salter said, "but we took the guy off the street who's possibly financing it or supporting the logistical piece of supplying weapons to anti-coalition forces."

(Editor's note: Cpl. Bill Putnam is assigned to the 122nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)

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