Thursday, March 22, 2007

Iraqi colonel flees military training in Alabama

The Washington Times

An Iraqi air force colonel disappeared recently from an Alabama Air Force base and is being sought in a regional manhunt by federal and military agents, defense officials say.

The colonel, who was not identified, was studying at the Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell Air Force Base, near Montgomery, since last winter in a leadership training course that is part of U.S. efforts to rebuild the Iraqi air force.

The officer disappeared along with his family, who were living either on the base or in the Montgomery area. He left a note stating that he was leaving the yearlong military course because he did not want to return to war-torn Iraq, said officials familiar with the case.

Air Force security, FBI and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents have started a search throughout the Southeast for the colonel and his family.

One official said that the Iraqi is a "high-interest" target and that Montgomery police are involved in the search. He is thought to be planning to hide in the United States or to be fleeing to Mexico.

"He was a afraid to go back, and he's either here or trying to cross into Mexico," said one official.

Lt. Col. Gregg C. Bottemiller, a spokesman for the Air University at Maxwell, confirmed that the Iraqi was missing, but declined to comment further and would not disclose the circumstances surrounding the disappearance.

Air Force spokesman Capt. Tom Wenz declined to comment when asked whether the Iraqi posed a national-security risk or whether he may be linked to insurgents or terrorists. He referred calls to the Homeland Security Department and the Iraqi Embassy in Washington.

An ICE spokesman had no comment.

No comments: