14 May 2004
The top U.S. law enforcement official is vowing to bring justice to the killers of American Nicholas Berg, the young man kidnapped and beheaded on videotape by terrorists in Iraq. Attorney General John Ashcroft made the comment at a Washington news conference Friday as a memorial service was being held for Mr. Berg in his native Pennsylvania.
Attorney General Ashcroft would not comment on reports that U.S. intelligence officials believe that the man who killed Nicholas Berg is al-Qaida-linked terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, but did leave little doubt that the United States will go after the killers.
Obviously, we will work hard to make sure that the people who murdered Mr. Berg are brought to justice, he said. And that would include indictment and prosecution and punishment and for me to go further by identifying specific individuals at this time would be inappropriate. But we take the murder of American citizens very seriously.
Mr. Ashcroft did acknowledge that the FBI had investigated Nicholas Berg two years ago after an e-mail address traced to him was used by an unidentified person who is believed to have been acquainted with Zacarias Moussaoui, who remains in custody, charged with being part of the 9/11 terror plot.
Mr. Berg briefly attended the University of Oklahoma in 1999 while Zacarias Moussaoui attended a flight school in Oklahoma in 2001.
Attorney General Ashcroft said that there is no evidence that Nicholas Berg knew anyone associated with Zacarias Moussaoui during his time in Oklahoma. We did not develop any interest in Mr. Berg or determine in any way that he had any relationship to any activities of terror, he said.
Nicholas Berg was detained by Iraqi police in late March and released in early April. His father, Michael Berg, said that the detention prevented his son from leaving the country earlier, when he might have avoided capture. Mr. Berg blamed the Bush administration for his son's death.
Nicholas Berg died for the sins of George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld, he said. The al-Qaida people are probably just as bad as they are, but, this administration did this. This administration allows something that they arrogantly call the Patriot Act to strip away America, to make America not the America that I grew up in.
On Friday, Attorney General Ashcroft told reporters that FBI and coalition officials in Iraq urged Nicholas Berg to leave Iraq after his release from custody in early April.
During interviews with Mr. Berg, FBI agents and CPA officials emphasized to him the dangerous environment that existed at the time in Iraq and they encouraged him to accept the CPA's offer to arrange his safe passage out of Iraq, he noted. Mr. Berg refused those offers at that time.
A gruesome video of Nicholas Berg's beheading was shown on an Islamist web site earlier in the week. U.S. intelligence analysts say they now believe Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was the man seen decapitating Mr. Berg on the video.