NEW YORK – A U.S. Marine shot and killed a wounded and apparently unarmed Iraqi prisoner in a mosque in the former insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, according to dramatic pool television pictures broadcast Monday. A Marine spokesman in Washington said the shooting was under investigation.
The shooting Saturday was videotaped by pool correspondent Kevin Sites of NBC television, who said three other previously wounded prisoners in the mosque apparently also had been shot again by the Marines inside the mosque.
The incident played out as the Marines 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment, returned to the unidentified Fallujah mosque Saturday. Sites was embedded with the unit.
Sites reported that a different Marine unit had come under fire from the mosque on Friday. Those Marines stormed the building, killing ten men and wounding five others, Sites said. The Marines said the fighters in the mosque had been armed with rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47 rifles.
The Marines had treated the wounded, he reported, left them behind and continued on Friday with their drive to retake the city from insurgents who have been battling U.S.-led occupation forces in Iraq with increasing ferocity and violence in recent months.
On the video as the camera moved into the mosque during the Saturday incident, a Marine can be heard shouting obscenities in the background, yelling that one of the men was only pretending to be dead.
The video then showed a Marine raising his rifle toward a prisoner lying on the floor of the mosque but neither NBC nor CNN showed the bullet hitting the man. At that moment the video was blacked out but the report of the rifle could be heard.
The blacked out portion of the videotape, provided later to Associated Press Television News and other members of the network pool, showed the bullet striking the man in the upper body, possibly the head. His blood splatters on the wall behind him and his body goes limp.
Sites reported a Marine in the same unit had been killed just a day earlier when he tended to the booby-trapped dead body of an insurgent.
The events on the videotape began as some of the Marines from the unit accompanied by Sites approached the mosque on Saturday, a day after it was stormed by other Marines.
Gunfire can be heard from inside the mosque, and at its entrance, Marines who were already in the building emerge. They are asked by an approaching Marine lieutenant if there were insurgents inside and if the Marines had shot any of them. A Marine can be heard responding affirmatively. The lieutenant then asks if they were armed and fellow Marine shrugs.
Sites’ account said the wounded men, who he said were prisoners and who were hurt in the previous day’s attack, had been shot again by the Marines on the Saturday visit.
The videotape showed two of the wounded men propped against the wall and Sites said they were bleeding to death. According his report, a third wounded man appeared already dead, while a fourth was severely wounded but breathing. The fifth was covered by a blanket but did not appear to have been shot again after the Marines returned. It was the fourth man who was shown being shot.
A spokesman at Marine Corps headquarters in the Pentagon, Maj. Doug Powell, said the incident was "being investigated." He had no further details, other than to confirm the incident happened on Saturday and that the Marines involved were part of the 1st Marine Division.
The CNN broadcast of the pictures used pixilation to cover parts of the video that could lead to public identification of the Marines involved.
NBC’s Robert Padavick told members of the U.S. television pool that the Pentagon had ordered NBC and other pool members to make sure the Marine’s identity was hidden because "they (the military authorities) are anticipating a criminal investigation as a result of this incident and do not want to implicate anybody ahead of that."
In New York, NBC spokeswoman Allison Gollust said the network did not broadcast the prisoner being shot because of the "graphic nature" of the video.