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U.S. commandos find no sign of POWs in raid of Baghdad prison

MARINE COMBAT HEADQUARTERS, Iraq—U.S. commandos raided Baghdad's Abu Ghurayb prison Friday in search of seven American prisoners of war who were captured in the early days of the war, but found the notoriously brutal prison empty.

Marines said an elderly, English-speaking Iraqi pharmacist approached the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion on Thursday night and claimed he had been forced to translate for American prisoners at Abu Ghurayb.

He showed bruises on his body and gave descriptions of two American prisoners that fit some of the seven U.S. soldiers the Iraqi regime announced it had captured in the first week of the war, said Lt. Col. Dave Pere, the watch officer for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.

The same task force of U.S. commandos that rescued Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch last week from a hospital in Nasiriyah rushed to the Abu Ghurayb prison, but found no sign of any prisoners, Iraqi or foreign.

Marines also said they had received initial intelligence reports that they recently had captured a foreign fighter in Iraq who had a record of terrorist activities abroad.

"One is a known terrorist," said 1st Marine Expeditionary Force combat operations center staffer Maj. Barry Montgomery, 37, of Shreveport, La., adding that he didn't know the name or the nationality of the prisoner.

Some 5,000 foreign fighters are believed to have slipped into Iraq in recent weeks to launch a "jihad," or holy war, against the U.S. and British troops who are occupying most of Iraq.

"They have basically come over here thinking it was their chance to kill an American," Montgomery said,

He added that Marines also have received reports that members of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network were entrenched in the central Iraq city of Kut, "but no confirmation."

Marines also said that a palace they attacked Thursday after a tip that Saddam Hussein and his youngest son, Qusai, were holed up there was owned by a friend of Qusai's identified only as Jamal al `Ani.

As a Marine unit approached the palace in the A'Dhamiyah neighborhood of central Baghdad, several civilian cars sped away while Arab fighters in the adjoining mosque opened fire, killing one American and wounding 22.

Montgomery said the Marines reported killing 200 to 300 enemy fighters, but intelligence exploitation teams were still searching the palace and mosque late Friday.

At Kut, where up to 2,000 Iraqi and foreign resistance fighters had been reported Thursday night, a Marine attack Friday fizzled when a local tribal leader met them and said local rebels had driven out the Saddam loyalists three days ago.

The sheik said local officials of Saddam's Baath Party would officially surrender Saturday, and he asked that U.S. troops not occupy the town and allow the mostly Shiite Muslim rebels to retain their guns, Marines said.

Marine officers told the sheik they wanted to secure the town only because a main highway runs through it, and they would consider whether to allow the rebels to keep their guns.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.