BAGHDAD - Five U.S. contractors detained during an investigation into the slaying of another American will be freed after a week in Iraqi custody due to insufficient evidence against them, the Iraqi government said Wednesday.
U.S.-backed Iraqi forces detained the contractors June 3 in connection with an investigation into the stabbing death of contractor Jim Kitterman of Houston. But there have been conflicting accounts about the specific allegations against them.
The case has been seen as the first test of a provision in a U.S.-Iraqi security pact that lifted the immunity U.S. contractors had enjoyed for most of the 6-year-old war.
Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said an investigative judge ordered the release of the five men detained by Iraqi security forces last week.
He told The Associated Press on Wednesday evening that they would be released in a matter of hours.
The wife of one of the contractors, Donald Feeney Jr., said she spoke with her husband earlier Wednesday and he said he was being released.
Judy Feeney, of Fayetteville, N.C., said she has spoken with her husband, Donald Feeney Jr., who told her he was being released and should be free within an hour.
"We're waiting for confirmation that he's actually released," she told the AP in a telephone interview.
Feeney said the last few days have been hectic, but the contractors' families were confident of a positive outcome.
We have been "keeping the information back and forth between the families and keeping everyone uplifted and confident," she said.
The Iraqi government has said those detained were four Americans and an Iraqi, but the U.S. Embassy maintains that all five are Americans.
Kitterman, a 60-year-old construction company owner, was found dead in his car on May 22 in Baghdad's protected Green Zone. He had been blindfolded, bound and stabbed.
U.S. and Iraqi officials have said the five were not accused in Kitterman's death but were detained in a raid that was part of the investigation into the killing.
The U.S. Embassy said FBI agents were present during a search of the men's quarters at the request of Iraqi authorities who are handling the investigation.
U.S. and Iraqi authorities have declined to identify the contractors.
However, an official of Corporate Training Unlimited, a Fayetteville, N.C.-based security company, said the five included the 55-year-old Feeney, who founded the company in 1986, his son Donald Feeney III, 31, and three other employees.
Company spokeswoman Sarah Smith has said the CTU contractors knew Kitterman as "simply comrades living in the Green Zone."
CTU trains corporate officials on how to avoid terrorists while they are overseas. The company, which has operated in Iraq since 2003, also has gained attention for rescuing American children taken to foreign countries in custody disputes.
Kitterman also had been working in Iraq since 2003 and founded a small construction company that operates from the Green Zone.
Although Americans and others have been killed in rocket or mortar attacks in the Green Zone, Kitterman was believed to be the first American ever slain in a criminal act since the protected area was established after the city fell to U.S. forces in April 2003.
Iraq assumed control of the Green Zone on Jan. 1 under the security agreement, taking primary responsibility from the Americans for searching vehicles and checking identity papers as entry checkpoints.
The Iraqis have begun removing some of the protective blast falls around the Green Zone - part of a campaign to restore a sense of normalcy as violence in the city has waned.
Associated Press Writer Mitch Weiss in Charlotte, N.C., contributed to this report.
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