Three of five Americans contractors detained in Baghdad have been ordered released by an Iraqi judge, because of insufficient evidence, a court spokesman said Thursday.
The other two other contractors remain in custody, according to Judge Abdul Sattar al-Beeraqdar, a spokesman for Iraq’s Higher Judicial Council. One of the men has been released on bond, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad confirmed Thursday. The embassy did not identify the man, who was released Wednesday. However, a spokesman for his employer, Corporate Training Unlimited, said it was Donald Feeney. Judy Feeney, Donald’s wife, also confirmed his release. The contracting company said the release of the others has been delayed because of a procedural issue. Judy Feeney said her son, Donald Feeney III, and Mark Bridges were to be released Thursday morning, but it may take more time to release the other two, Jason Jones and Micah Milligan. But al-Beeraqdar said, without naming names, that two contractors were being held on charges involving “illegal substances” found on the men when they were taken into custody. Those who have been released are not allowed to leave the country because of an ongoing investigation and the judge may want to question them again, according to al-Beeraqdar. Except for Jones, the detained contractors work for the Fayetteville, North Carolina-based CTU, a security firm headed by the elder Feeney. An Iraqi judge decided earlier on Wednesday that charges against the five contractors were not warranted and that they could be released, according to an Iraqi security source and a source close to the five.
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The sources requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case, in which the contractors have been detained since last week for reasons that remain unclear. The contractors initially had been told they were being held in connection with the May death of another contractor, James Kitterman, said the source close to the five. But on Monday, according to a judicial source, the men were told they were being held on suspicion of having unregistered weapons. Still, they were asked about their activities around the time Kitterman was killed, and Iraqi government officials told CNN Monday the five were detained as suspects in connection with Kitterman’s slaying. Kitterman was found bound, blindfolded and fatally stabbed in a car in Baghdad’s Green Zone on May 22. The 60-year-old Houston, Texas, resident owned a construction company that operated in Iraq. The Green Zone is the high-security area in central Baghdad that contains the U.S. Embassy and key Iraqi government buildings. Access to the area, formally known as the International Zone, is tightly controlled. The five contractors were taken into custody on June 3 in a pre-dawn Green Zone raid by Iraqi and U.S. personnel, the security source told CNN on Sunday. During the raid, troops also confiscated weapons, the Iraqi security source said. Three of the contractors were suspected of being directly involved in Kitterman’s death, the Iraqi source said. A U.S. Embassy spokesman said the search was an Iraqi operation, but FBI representatives were present at the request of Iraqi authorities. The five were transferred to a prison within the Green Zone on Friday. “After this murder inside the Green Zone, a joint investigation committee from U.S. and Iraq sides has been formed to investigate this incident,” Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul Karim Khalaf told CNN, “and this committee managed to collect a number of indications that those five are linked to this murder.” Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh also said the men were detained based on information linking them to the Kitterman slaying. Under Iraqi law, after a person is detained, an investigative judge questions the accused and assesses the evidence. The judge then decides whether there is sufficient evidence, and either refers the case to trial or dismisses it. The Iraqi source said the five had been held in a separate holding area and not with other Iraqi detainees, but spent time in a courtyard with other Iraqi detainees. A U.S. Embassy spokesman said consular officials had visited with them and “they appeared well.” The source close to the suspects said Sunday that each of the five men insisted they had alibis that will clear them and they were eager to tell their stories to a judge. The Feeneys had known Kitterman for six years from their time in the Green Zone and “respected him,” Corporate Training Unlimited spokeswoman Sarah Smith told CNN.