No forensic match for ammo in Blackwater shooting

WASHINGTON — FBI scientists were unable to match bullets from a deadly 2007 Baghdad shooting to guns carried by Blackwater Worldwide security guards, according to laboratory reports that leave open the possibility that insurgents also fired in the crowded intersection.

Five Blackwater guards face manslaughter and weapons charges for their role in the shooting, which left 17 Iraqis dead and inflamed anti-U.S. sentiment abroad. Prosecutors say the contractors launched an unprovoked attack on civilians using machine guns and grenade launchers. The guards maintain their convoy was ambushed by insurgents.

The FBI lab reports, obtained by The Associated Press from someone not involved in the criminal case, allow for both possibilities.

Investigators recovered .30-caliber bullets from a survivor, a Blackwater truck and around Baghdad’s Nisoor Square. Scientists could not determine whether those bullets came from .30-caliber Blackwater machine guns.

The AK-47 rifles favored by many Iraqi insurgents also fire .30-caliber bullets.

Nobody disputes that Blackwater guards fired, but accounts vary on whether the convoy of armored trucks was attacked. Iraqi witnesses and some members of the Blackwater convoy told authorities they saw no insurgent gunfire. Radio logs show Blackwater guards repeatedly reporting incoming fire during a hectic eight minutes in which one truck was disabled.

The government’s case does not hinge on whether Blackwater was fired on, since prosecutors say the guards violated their rules of engagement even if they did take fire. But any evidence that Blackwater was attacked would help the guards argue they fired in self-defense.

The inconclusive lab reports do little to sort out the discrepancies. The documents do not prove the government’s argument that Blackwater was unprovoked. Nor do they prove that Blackwater was attacked.

Instead, the reports reveal the difficulty FBI agents faced in an investigation that began two weeks after the shooting.

In the U.S., investigators would analyze bullets from the dead bodies. But Muslims typically bury their dead within 24 hours, so when the FBI arrived, such analysis was impossible. Iraqi autopsy reports, if they are done, are not usually as thorough as those in the United States. The FBI lab reports give no indication that investigators recovered any bullets from dead bodies.

Neither the Justice Department nor attorneys for the Blackwater guards would discuss the lab reports.

Further complicating things, investigators found Yugoslavian and Chinese cartridge cases in the square. Neither U.S. troops nor Blackwater use such ammunition. But shootings are not uncommon in Nisoor Square and those shells could have been left behind before or after the Blackwater shooting.

“Even if they didn’t find anything except Blackwater cartridge casings, because of how insecure the scene is out there, people could have come in and picked up anything they wanted,” said Michael Haag, a forensic scientist and instructor who reviewed the lab reports for the AP.

FBI scientists also tried to match the bullets to Blackwater ammunition by analyzing and comparing metal compositions. Scientists determined the bullets and bullet fragments recovered from the scene probably came from “several different sources.”

But that, too, is an inconclusive finding, Haag said. Even ammunition pulled from the same box can have different metal compositions. So, the lab’s finding does not prove whether Blackwater was alone in firing, he said.

Gerald Styers, former president of the Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiners, said the FBI reports show that while TV scientists solve shootings in an hour, real science is rarely so easy.

“TV tells a different story than real life,” he said. “It’s very difficult to compare badly damaged materials.”

The Blackwater guards are scheduled to go on trial early next year and the results will be closely watched in Baghdad, where Iraqi authorities wanted to prosecute the case.

The Obama administration says it will not renew Blackwater’s security contract next month. The Moyock, N.C.-based company recently changed its name to Xe and announced a management overhaul.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

A Cessna 150 crashed north of Paine Field on Friday evening, Feb. 16, 2024, in Mukilteo, Washington. The pilot survived without serious injury. (Courtesy of Richard Newman.)
‘I’m stuck in the trees’: 911 call recounts plane crash near Paine Field

Asad Ali was coming in for a landing in a Cessna 150 when he crashed into woods south of Mukilteo. Then he called 911 — for 48 minutes.

Everett
Snohomish County likely to feel more like winter, beginning Monday

Get ready for a mix of rain and snow this week, along with cooler temperatures.

Anthony Boggess
Arlington man sentenced for killing roommate who offered shelter

Anthony Boggess, 33, reported hearing the voices of “demons” the night he strangled James Thrower, 65.

Patrick Kunz speaks during his sentencing on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, at Snohomish County Superior Court in Everett, Washington.(Annie Barker / The Herald)
Everett gymnastics coach who spied on students sentenced to 6 months

Patrick Kunz, 47, pleaded guilty to charges of voyuerism and possession of child pornography last month.

Traffic moves along Highway 526 in front of Boeing’s Everett Production Facility on Nov. 28, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / Sound Publishing)
Everett transgender mechanic alleges Boeing treated her ‘like a zoo animal’

For years, Boeing allowed toxicity “to fester and grow” at its Everett factory, according to Rachel Rasmussen, an employee from 1989 to 2024.

Monroe High School (Monroe School District)
Monroe High School teacher accused of sexual misconduct, put on leave

Few details were not available Thursday afternoon. Police were seeking information from the public.

Everett
After 10 months, police make arrest in fatal Everett shooting

Police believe Malik “Capone” Fulson killed Joseph Haderlie, 27, in April 2023 outside an apartment complex on Casino Road.

Kathy Purviance-Snow poses for a photo in her computer lab at Snohomish High School on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Snohomish, WA. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
To ban or embrace ChatGPT? Local teachers fight AI with AI — or don’t

“It has fundamentally changed my teaching in really stressful and exciting ways,” an EvCC teacher said. At all levels of education, ChatGPT poses a tricky question.

Ryan Rafter appears in court for sentencing Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, at Snohomish County Superior Court in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Man sentenced to life in prison for murder of Everett father

In April 2022, Ryan Rafter, 42, shot Christopher Buck, 29, to death after breaking in to his home to steal drugs.

Marysville
Driver strikes, kills Marysville man who was crossing I-5 in Seattle

The man’s car had broken down near Mercer Street. Troopers reported that he was struck when he tried to cross the freeway.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Darrington in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Police: Darrington woman stabbed, buried 5-year-old daughter

The woman reportedly told investigators she was hearing voices before she killed her young daughter on Valentine’s Day.

In this Feb. 5, 2018, file photo a Boeing 737 MAX 7 is displayed during a debut for employees and media of the new jet in Renton, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
FAA gives Boeing 90 days to develop plan to fix quality, safety issues

The agency’s ultimatum comes a day after a meeting with CEO Dave Calhoun and other top Boeing officials in Washington, D.C.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.