KUWAIT CITY – Two U.S. Army soldiers were shot and seriously wounded on Thursday, when a Kuwaiti policeman opened fire after a highway traffic stop, the Kuwaiti government said.
The Kuwaiti Interior Ministry said the policeman, identified as a junior officer, fled to Saudi Arabia shortly after the shooting.
Both soldiers are said to be in serious but not life-threatening condition, as they remain in a Kuwaiti military hospital, where they were airlifted after the shooting occurred. One soldier was shot in the face and the other in the shoulder, a U.S. spokesman said.
The shooting took place around 10:30 a.m., when the policeman apparently flagged down the Americans' car for speeding, one anonymous Kuwaiti official said. There are no details about the policeman's motive, but the attack took place as anti-American feelings are on the rise in the Middle East and raised concern about the safety of U.S. troops.
The victims were traveling between the U.S. military base of Camp Doha and the town of Oraifijan, nearly 35 miles south of Kuwait City.
The U.S. spokesman said the soldiers, who were wearing civilian clothes and riding in a civilian vehicle, did not return fire. The victims managed to drive to Oraifijan, where they had been headed on "official business," before being flown to hospital. The U.S. military maintains a camp in the Oraifijan area.
The victims were not identified, but a woman told KPLC-TV in Lake Charles, La., that Army officials told her one of the wounded soldiers was her brother, Larry Charles Thomas, of Lake Charles. Rose Thomas said her brother underwent surgery Thursday.
In Prague, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the attack was not necessarily linked to the U.S. military buildup in Kuwait in anticipation of possible military action against Iraq.
"There have been terrorist attacks in that region for my entire adult lifetime, and that's a long time," said the 70-year-old defense secretary, who was attending the NATO summit in the Czech capital.
The attack is the latest in a series of incidents involving U.S. troops in this oil-rich nation that borders Iraq. On Oct. 8, two Islamic fundamentalists shot and killed a U.S. Marine and wounded another on the island of Failaka. Both attackers were killed by other Marines.
Six days later, the U.S. military reported that shots were fired at its troops from two civilian vehicles in Kuwait's northwest, which the government closed off to civilians early this month.
On Nov. 1, shots were fired in the vicinity of U.S. soldiers training near Oraifijan but there were no injuries. U.S. and Kuwaiti officials downplayed the incident, suggesting the shots were fired by hunters and were not directed against the Americans.
About 10,000 U.S. military personnel are based in Kuwait under a defense pact signed between both countries following the 1991 Gulf War, during which an American-led coalition drive Iraqi invaders from the country.
While Kuwait owes its independence and security to U.S. forces, anti-American sentiment is rising here and elsewhere in the Middle East because of U.S. support for Israel, the war against terrorism and threats of an American attack on Iraq.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.