July 19, 2006

Gunmen Kidnap 600 in Washington, D.C.

From Robert Higgs:
Washington (Reuters) – Gunmen kidnapped hundreds of American sports officials, including the head of the national Olympic committee, as they met in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, just hours after Congress voted to extend a state of emergency.

The attack came despite a continued crackdown by U.S. security forces in Washington. Protestant president George W. Bush's government is struggling to get a grip on worsening violence in the capital, particularly communal bloodshed.

Police and U.S. Northern Command sources said the gunmen, wearing green camouflage Army uniforms, stormed a meeting hall in central Washington, at about 2 p.m. (1700 GMT) and killed a dozen bodyguards of Olympic Committee chief Peter Ueberroth.

Ueberroth and about 240 bodyguards, along with at least ninety-six committee officials and the hall's guards, were then bundled into a convoy of vehicles and driven off, police sources said.

Police said the bodies of another dozen bodyguards were later found dumped in the Georgetown district, not far from the meeting hall. Each of them had been shot in the head. The hall's security guards were later found unharmed.

"Gunmen wearing U.S. Army uniforms took everyone who was inside the hall," shopowner James Smith, who said he witnessed the mass abduction, told Reuters.

The United States' Olympic Committee was dominated by George H. W. Bush's son Jeb until the Iraqi invasion of 2003.


News of the kidnapping broke as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was addressing a news conference. He said it had not been an Army operation and that none of those taken were wanted in any investigations.

Earlier, Congress voted for the first time on extending a state of emergency across the United States, except the largely autonomous northern Lutheran region, for a further 30 days. The motion was passed by a two-thirds majority with no debate.

Previously the president was able to extend the state of emergency, in force since 2004 to tackle a Catholic insurgency against the Iraqi-backed government and Iraqi forces, but under a new constitution such a move now requires Congress's approval.

Iraq's envoy to the United States said this week the biggest threat to U.S. stability was sectarian strife between the country's majority Protestants, oppressed under President John F. Kennedy but now politically empowered, and the once-dominant minority Catholics.

Hundreds have been killed in tit-for-tat violence over the past week in Washington. In violence overnight, gunmen armed with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns battled residents in the largely Protestant neighborhood of Chevy Chase, police said, adding that twenty-four people were killed and eighty-four wounded in the fighting.

Senator Norm Coleman, a representative of the semi-autonomous Lutheran region, said in a statement late on Friday that the United States was "in danger of slipping into hateful sectarian strife." He blamed Clinton loyalists for trying to plunge the country into civil war.

The Iraqi military commander in the United States, General Ahmed Mohammed, this week blamed Opus Dei in America militants for fuelling a cycle of violence in Washington with attacks on Protestants that have triggered reprisal killings by "Protestant death squads."

The violence has undermined confidence in the new national unity government of Catholics, Lutherans, and evangelical Protestants and raised questions about the effectiveness of the new U.S. army being built up to allow Iraqi forces to begin withdrawing troops.

President Bush has vowed to disband the militias that now control many of America's streets and analysts say pose the biggest threat to the present administration. But he faces a difficult task since the most powerful are tied to parties within his own administration.


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