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3 U.S. civilians dead, 2 seriously hurt in Iraq ambush

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Gunmen ambushed a car carrying American relief workers Monday night in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, killing three U.S. civilians and seriously wounding two others in what appears to be the second targeted attack on civilians doing reconstruction work in less than a week.

"All five U.S. citizens belong to a private volunteer organization ... They were in the Mosul area to deliver relief supplies," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Joseph Piek, a military spokesman for coalition operations in Mosul, 240 miles north of Baghdad.

Killed were Larry and Jean Dover Elliott of Cary, N.C., and Karen Watson of Bakersfield, Calif., all of whom worked for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. Names of the wounded were being withheld while the military contacted the group, which would in turn help notify their families.

The Americans were traveling in the same car Monday evening, and were discovered in an area of eastern Mosul by an off-duty Iraqi police officer shortly after the 5 p.m. shooting, Piek said. A coalition spokeswoman in Baghdad described them as the victim of a "drive-by shooting."

The Iraqi policeman took the two survivors to an Iraqi hospital. U.S. Army helicopters later moved them to a U.S. Army combat support hospital in Mosul. One was in surgery early Tuesday and the other in guarded condition in the hospital's intensive-care unit.

It was not immediately known what the Americans were doing at the time of the attack. Iraqi police were gathering evidence, with involvement of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Piek said.

The FBI is already assisting Iraqi police in another apparent targeted killing of two U.S. Defense Department contractors and their Iraqi translator in central Iraq. Fern Holland, 33, from Oklahoma, Robert Zangas, 44, a former Marine from suburban Pittsburgh, and their U.S.-paid Iraqi interpreter, Selwa Ourmashe were believed ambushed and killed as they drove, without a security escort, on March 9 near the city of Hillah, 35 miles south of Baghdad.

Four members of the new Iraqi Police force, forged under the U.S.-led coalition's supervision, were being held for interrogation in the Hillah killings, as well as a former member of the Iraqi police force dating back to the time of Saddam Hussein's regime, and a sixth man.

Their arrests prompted U.S. officials to review the four suspect police officers' backgrounds for criminal records or ties to the regime. First reports suggested that the Americans were shot after they stopped at a police checkpoint. Later, investigators found that the Pentagon contractors were likewise killed in a drive-by shooting, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy chief of operations at the coalition, said on Monday.

Holland was working on Iraqi women's projects and Zangas was consulting on Iraqi free press projects. Their murders made them the first U.S. civilians working for the occupation authority to be killed in the nearly year-old Iraqi invasion. First reports of Monday's shootings in Mosul suggested that the relief workers were independent, and not in Iraq on Pentagon contracts.


(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.