2 kidnapped U.S. soldiers found dead in Iraqi desert

BAGHDAD — The remains of two U.S. soldiers kidnapped during a military patrol last year were found after a U.S.-captured suspect led soldiers to their location, the Pentagon announced Friday.

Spc. Alex R. Jimenez, 25, of Lawrence, Mass., and Pvt. Byron W. Fouty, 19, of Waterford, Mich., members of the 10th Mountain Division based at Fort Drum, N.Y., were captured when insurgents overran their observation post outside the city of Mahmudiyah in the early morning hours of May 12, 2007. Four other U.S. soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter were killed in the attack.

A third captured soldier, Pfc. Joseph Anzack, 20, was found dead in the Euphrates River near the attack site on May 23, 2007.

Jimenez's and Fouty's remains were found buried together in the open desert, west of Jurf-al-Sakr, a one-time al Qaida and Sunni insurgent hotbed, after a suspect pointed out their location during a U.S. military interrogation, an Iraqi police official told McClatchy.

Their remains were recovered July 8 and flown to Dover, Del., the following day, where they were positively identified on Thursday, the U.S. military said in a statement.

"Every combat death is a tragedy, but this has been especially difficult for the families of these two 10th Mountain soldiers because of our not knowing for over a year of their whereabouts," said Maj. Gen. Michael Oates, the commander of the 10th Mountain Division.

"We take solace in the fact that they are finally home," he said.

Their capture came as U.S. soldiers were reaching out to area Sunnis, many of them suspected insurgents, and encouraging them to become concerned local citizens. The U.S. military began paying them to secure their neighborhoods, which contributed to the security turnaround there.

Soldiers last fall working near Jurf al-Sakur told McClatchy that they often had to restrain their rage when reaching out to Iraqis they suspected knew something about their comrades. Instead, troops stationed near the attack site spent months scouring open fields and suspects' properties looking for Jimenez and Fouty. As more residents began cooperating, U.S. troops there said they hoped someone would lead them to the remains.

There had been ominous signals that the soldiers had been killed shortly after their capture. About a month after the attack, an al Qaida-affiliated group said in a videotape that two missing Americans had been killed.

But in an unusual omission for a group that often uses images to document its actions, the Islamic State of Iraq offered no evidence. Instead, the video showed armed, hooded men allegedly planning the pre-dawn ambush that led to the soldiers' capture and, in the final frames of the 10:41-minute video, some of the soldiers' personal items, including military-issued ID cards, credit cards and a cross.

In the video, a man said, "their end will be underneath the ground, God (Allah) willing," but their bodies wouldn't be returned to their families because "you refused to deliver the bodies of our killed people," referring to Iraqi civilians.

(Issa is a McClatchy special correspondent.)