BAGHDAD, Iraq – U.S. troops waited until daylight to recover the bodies of two missing soldiers discovered dead in Iraq Tuesday because of fears that the area was booby trapped, a U.S. military official said.
Roadside bombs were found in the area where the remains of Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston, and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker, 25, of Madras, Ore. were discovered, U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said at a press conference Tuesday in Baghdad.
The searchers "perceived what they believed to be an unstable condition right there ... and they did have to dismantle some stuff" to get to the bodies, he said.
Caldwell said the cause of death was "undeterminable" and that DNA tests would be conducted to verify the identities. An Iraqi official said the men were "killed in a barbaric way."
The two disappeared after an attack Friday at a traffic checkpoint outside the city of Youssifiyah, just south of Baghdad. Spc. David J. Babineau, 25, of Springfield, Mass., was killed in the attack. The three men were assigned to the 502nd Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Ky.
The director of the Iraqi defense ministry's operation room, Maj. Gen. Abdul-Aziz Mohammed, said the bodies showed signs of having been tortured. "They were killed in a barbaric way," he said.
An Iraqi insurgent group that earlier claimed responsibility for kidnapping the soldiers posted a Web statement Tuesday that said the soldiers had been killed by the new leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq.
"With God Almighty's blessing, Abu Hamza al-Muhajer carried out the verdict of the Islamic court" for the soldier's slaying, said a statement in the name of the Mujahedeen Shura Council. Later the message used the word "slaughtered," which in previous cases has been used to describe beheadings.
More than 8,000 Iraqi and American troops turned up nothing in searches in and around the area. Three suspected insurgents were killed and 34 detained in fighting during the process, Maj. Gen. Caldwell said.
Ahmed Khalaf Falah, a farmer who said he witnessed the attack Friday, said three Humvees were manning a checkpoint when they came under fire from many directions. Two Humvees went after the assailants, but the third was ambushed before it could move, he told The Associated Press.
Seven masked gunmen, including one carrying what Falah described as a heavy machine gun, killed the driver of the third vehicle and then took the two other U.S. soldiers captive, the witness said. His account could not be verified independently.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari also said the soldiers appeared to have been taken prisoner by insurgents.
The military said Saturday that soldiers at a nearby checkpoint heard small-arms fire and explosions during the attack at 7:15 p.m. Friday, and a quick-reaction force reached the scene within 15 minutes. The force found one soldier dead but no signs of the other two.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.