Americans killed in Gaza worked for major security contractor

Thursday, October 16, 2003

GAZA CITY The three Americans killed in the attack on the U.S. convoy here Wednesday worked for a U.S. contractor, DynCorp, that was hired by the U.S. embassy in Israel for security services.

DynCorp has been contracted by the State Department to bolster U.S. embassy security, particularly in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The company, termed the 10th largest contractor of the U.S. government, operates and maintains armored vehicles used by embassy personnel and deploys security officers. The company also maintains military aircraft in other parts of the Middle East.

The three casualties were identified as John Branchizio, 37, Mark Parson, 31, and John Linde, 30.

Palestinian sources said the insurgents came from the Fatah movement loyal to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and were financed by Iran to launch attacks against U.S. interests, Middle East Newsline reported.

The sources said the insurgents had contacts within the PA security agencies and for months planned an attack against American targets.

The attack reflected tactics similar to those of the Iranian-sponsored Hizbullah. The sources said the insurgents used a remote-controlled mine that was more than 80 kilograms, similar to the bombs used to destroy Israeli Merkava Mk-3 main battle tanks in 2001 and 2002.

"The bomb was prepared weeks ago and placed at the location for at least a week," a source said. "When they learned of the arrival of the Americans, they acted."

"This is the second attack at a U.S. target," U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer said. "One of our cars in Gaza was also attacked at the end of June. So our investigation will take that into account as we assess both the specifics of this terrorist attack today as well as whether or not there is a pattern about which we have to be concerned."

On June 28, two roadside bombs were detonated near a passing U.S. embassy vehicle near the Jabalya refugee camp. Nobody was injured and insurgency groups refrained from issuing an announcement. At that point, the United States asked the Palestinian Authority to increase security for U.S. embassy convoys that travel through the Gaza Strip.

Two groups claimed responsibility for Wednesday's attack on the three-vehicle U.S. convoy. One claim came from the unknown Al Ansar Al Qaida of Palestine. The other claim came from the Palestinian Popular Resistance Committees aligned with Fatah. Hamas and Islamic Jihad have denied any connection to the bombing.

On Thursday, PA officials said six Palestinians from Jabalya were arrested in connection with the bombing. The officials said all of the detainees were members of the Popular Resistance Committees.

A U.S. embassy investigating team began collecting evidence from the scene of the bombing. But the embassy team soon was forced to leave when U.S. investigators came under a hail of stones by Palestinian youngsters. "The [Palestinian] feelings against the Americans are not so good," PA National Security Adviser Brig. Gen. Jibril Rajoub said. "[But] we can guarantee the safety of any American team sent to Gaza to investigate the attack."

The U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv released a statement that warned Americans not to remain in the Gaza Strip. Several hundreds Americans are said to be living or working in the area.

"The United States government recommends that all U.S. citizens depart the area as expeditiously as possible, while avoiding the area of the attack," an embassy statement read. "We are asking the Israeli government to facilitate the evacuation of any American citizen wishing to leave the Gaza Strip."

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