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Two former Blackwater contractors charged in killings

RALEIGH, N.C. — Two former Blackwater contractors were arrested Thursday on murder charges in the shootings of two Afghans after a traffic accident last year, according to a federal indictment.

The indictment unsealed hours after the arrests charges Justin Cannon, 27, and Chris Drotleff, 29, with second-degree murder, attempted murder and weapons charges. FBI agents arrested both of them without incident, said Peter Carr, a spokesman with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Virginia's Eastern District.

Both men have told the Associated Press that they were justified in opening fire on a car that caused an accident in front of their vehicle, then turned and sped toward them. The indictment says the shooting at a Kabul intersection killed two people. At least one other person was injured.

"I feel comfortable firing my weapon any time I feel my life is in danger," Drotleff said in a recent interview. "That night, my life was 100 percent in danger."

Drotleff made a first court appearance Thursday afternoon and requested an attorney to be appointed. He was ordered held until a detention hearing next week. Officials said Cannon made an initial appearance in Texas.

The arrests came a day after Xe, the North Carolina-based company formerly known as Blackwater, settled a series of federal lawsuits alleging that illegal activity by the company led to the deaths of dozens of Iraqis. Those killings and other problems in Iraq have strained relations between Washington and Baghdad and led to the U.S. government's push to increase oversight of contractors in war zones.

U.S. officials have struggled to demonstrate that they have both the legal grounds and political fortitude to hold contractors accountable. Several Blackwater contractors had been charged with 14 counts of manslaughter for their role in a 2007 shooting in Baghdad's Nisoor Square, but a judge dropped those charges last week.

In another case, federal prosecutors told a Seattle attorney they intend to charge another Blackwater contractor in the killing of an Iraqi guard in 2006.

Two former Blackwater contractors charged in killings 01/07/10 [Last modified: Thursday, January 7, 2010 10:17pm]
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