Iraqi Cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr’s Militia Hands Over U.S. Citizen
Followers of Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Saturday handed over to U.N. officials in Baghdad an American citizen they said had been held for nine months by the armed wing of their group.
A U.S. Embassy spokesman confirmed later Saturday that the man was an American citizen and had been transferred to the embassy. No further details were provided.
A U.N. official confirmed that Maha al-Douri, a Sadrist member of the Iraqi parliament, and the deputy parliamentary speaker had released an American to the United Nations in Baghdad on Saturday evening.
In interviews given to Iraqi media earlier in the day, Douri said that the armed wing of the Shiite political Sadrist movement, a remnant of the feared Mahdi Army called the Promised Day Brigades, had arrested the man last year.
Iraqi media reported that the man’s name, as given by Douri, was Randy Michael Heltz, although the spelling could not be immediately verified.
A video aired on Iraqi television showed a man in military uniform standing next to Douri and another Iraqi official. A transcript provided by the BBC of a video that showed the man speaking quoted him as saying that he had deployed to Iraq as a soldier in 2003 and spent 15 months there in a military capacity. U.S. military officials did not immediately confirm or deny that assertion.