Sunday, October 29, 2006

Missing Soldier Said to Be Wed to an Iraqi

New York Times - The missing American soldier who has been the subject of an intensive manhunt here in the capital since he was kidnapped by gunmen outside the heavily protected Green Zone last week was secretly married to an Iraqi woman and had been visiting her at the time of the abduction, several people who identified themselves as his in-laws said Sunday.

Such a marriage, if confirmed, would not only be highly unusual but also a violation of American military rules and would put the mystery of the missing soldier in an entirely new light.

The American military command has been circumspect in the details of the missing soldier, saying he was an Iraqi-American translator who had left the Green Zone without permission to visit unidentified relatives in Baghdad. Search squads have shown local residents the missing soldier’s picture, but the military has not even released his name.

The people who said they were the missing soldier’s in-laws identified him as Ahmed Qusai al-Taei (AH'-med koo-SY' ahl-TY'-ee), 41. They showed visitors to their Baghdad apartment an enlarged wedding photo of him and the bride, whom they identified as Israa Abdul-Satar, 26, a college student. They also showed the visitors glossy snapshots of the smiling couple in Egypt for their honeymoon.

The couple had married, they said, three months ago. The precise dates of the wedding and honeymoon, and whether the soldier had been on active duty at the time, were not clear.

The people also described in vivid detail how members of the Mahdi Army militia, led by a local commander known as Abu Rami, came to the wife’s home in the central Baghdad neighborhood of Karada last Monday, the first day of the Muslim holiday Id al-Fitr, and dragged Mr. Taei away.

“They were saying, ‘He’s an American journalist,’ ” said a woman who identified herself as his mother-in-law and asked that she be identified only by her nickname, Um Omar, because of fear of reprisals. “We were saying, ‘No, he’s an Iraqi,’ ”

Um Omar and the others in the home said they had not learned until after his kidnapping that he was an American soldier.

Military officials would not comment when asked on Sunday about these new details, and it was impossible to corroborate independently the account given by Mr. Taei’s purported in-laws.

The military’s fraternization policies prohibit active duty personnel from marrying local civilians, said Lt. Col. Josslyn Aberle, a military spokeswoman. But she said privacy rules barred her from providing any details about the missing soldier.

The people who claimed to be the missing soldier’s in-laws said he and his immediate family, Sunni Arabs from the capital’s Adhamiya neighborhood, had fled to the United States before the fall of Mr. Hussein. They explained how he came to marry Ms. Abdul-Satar, also a Sunni.

Mr. Taei had friends in Karada, a mostly well-to-do commercial district that sits outside the Green Zone, Um Omar said. As she described it, he spotted her daughter one day as she was en route to classes at Mutsamsirya University in central Baghdad, where she is enrolled in the science college.

Through friends, he arranged to speak with her parents, Um Omar said, and after some discussion, Ms. Abdul-Satar agreed to marry Mr. Taei, whom her mother described as a “gentleman.”

After the couple married, Um Omar said, Ms. Abdul-Satar moved out of her mother’s cramped apartment on the third floor of a dreary complex on a side street in Karada near the National Theater, to a cousin’s one-story home down the block.

Mr. Taei came to visit every few days, said a neighbor who lives across the street from the cousin’s home, where the kidnapping took place.

“We thought he was a businessman,” said the neighbor, who asked to be identified only by his last name, Nadhir.