A U.S. soldier fired on his fellow troops at a counseling center at a base outside Baghdad on Monday, U.S. officials said, killing five people in the worst such attack of the six-year war.
The shooting occurred at 2 p.m. at a stress clinic at Camp Liberty, near Baghdad’s international airport, two senior defense officials said. Though initial reports indicated the attacker was killed in the incident, the U.S. command in Baghdad said late Monday that a suspect in the killings was in custody. “Any time we lose one of our own, it affects us all,” Col. John Robinson, a U.S. military spokesman, said in a written statement. “Our hearts go out to the families and friends of all the service members involved in this terrible tragedy.” Neither the suspect nor any of the victims had been identified, but a defense official with access to the latest reports on the incident told CNN that the suspect had been a patient at the treatment center. “Preliminary reports show the soldier was was being escorted to the clinic, for reasons not yet explained,” an Army official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Army Times. “Once inside, he got into a verbal altercation with the staff and was asked to leave. The soldier and his escort got back into their vehicle and began to drive away. “At some point during the drive, the soldier got control of his escort’s weapon and ordered the escort out of the vehicle,” the official said, according to the Times. “The soldier then drove back to the clinic, walked in and began shooting.”
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In Washington, the White House said President Obama was shocked by the attack. “The president’s heart goes out to the families and friends of all the service members involved in this horrible tragedy,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters. “He was shocked by the news of this incident and will press to ensure that we fully understand what happened at the clinic, and that we are doing everything we can to ensure that our men and women in uniform are protected.” The president planned to bring up the issue in a meeting with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Gibbs said. Gates expressed his own “horror and deep regret” Monday afternoon. Watch the defense secretary talk about the incident » “We are still in the process of gathering information on exactly what happened,” Gates said. “But if the preliminary reports are confirmed, such a tragic loss of life at the hands of our own forces is a cause for great and urgent concern. And I can assure you that it will get this department’s highest-priority attention.” Camp Liberty is tightly guarded, and U.S. troops are required to clear their weapons of ammunition while on the base. The only service members who have loaded weapons are those guarding high-ranking officers and military police. Monday’s attack marks the sixth incident in which a service member was killed by a fellow service member since the launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. The other incidents: • In March 2003, Capt. Christopher Seifert and Maj. Gregory Stone of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division were killed in a grenade attack at Camp Pennsylvania, Kuwait, that wounded 14 other officers. Sgt. Hasan Akbar was convicted by a court-martial in 2005 and sentenced to death. • Sgt. Joseph Tackett was fatally shot in June 2005 by a fellow soldier in Baghdad. Lt. Willie Brown later pleaded guilty to a charge of negligent homicide and was sentenced to 30 months in prison, the independent Army Times reported. • The same month, Capt. Phillip Esposito and Lt. Louis Allen were killed in an explosion at a base in Tikrit, north of Baghdad. The military charged a sergeant in their company, Alberto Martinez, with murder in their deaths, but a military jury acquitted him in 2008.
• Two U.S. sailors based in Bahrain, Seaman Anamarie Camacho and Seaman Genesia Gresham, were shot and killed by a third sailor who then shot himself in October 2007, the Navy said. • A 39-year-old soldier was charged with killing Staff Sgt. Darris Dawson and Sgt. Wesley Durbin in Tunnis, Iraq, in September.