<!--:es-->Rebels attacked slain US troops in Iraq: Witness<!--:-->

Rebels attacked slain US troops in Iraq: Witness

YUSUFIYA, Iraq – Two slain U.S. soldiers who went missing south of Baghdad were ambushed by as many as 30 insurgents who closed in on them in vehicles and opened fire, according to people who said on Wednesday they were witnesses.

It was not possible to independently verify their accounts. The U.S. military has yet to explain how the soldiers may have been isolated in what Iraqis call “The Triangle of Death” for its frequent insurgent attacks.

But two Iraqis who said they were witnesses gave similar accounts of the moments when Privates First Class Thomas Lowell Tucker, 25, and Kristian Menchaca, 23, went missing in the al Qaeda stronghold of Yusufiya, south of Baghdad, on Friday.

They said the two soldiers and a driver fell back a few hundred meters behind two other military vehicles when they came under attack at dusk.

“There was one vehicle in the back of the convoy. It was very dusty. Suddenly these gunmen in Land Cruisers and Toyotas and other cars started firing at the soldiers,” recalled farmer Omar Abdullah, 49, who said he was some 200 meters (yards) away.

“A lot of dust was kicked up by the cars so the soldiers in the other cars probably could not see. The gunmen killed the driver. Eventually the other two soldiers were totally outnumbered and they were taken away.”

He said about 30 gunmen, some wearing ski masks and baggy black pants and others in white and red checkered headdresses, mounted the ambush.

Chief U.S. military spokesman Major General William Caldwell said there was reason to believe two bodies found in the Yusufiya area on Monday night were those of Tucker and Menchaca.

Muhammad Abu Hillal, a soft drinks vendor who also said he was in the area, said a woman was killed in an exchange of fire between the insurgents and the soldiers.

“There were many gunmen. One vehicle was isolated and there was lots of shooting. There was dust everywhere,” he said.

The Mujahideen Shura Council has said it abducted the two soldiers but it has offered no proof and Caldwell dismissed the claim.

Residents say the group was highly active in the rural area, terrorizing families and forcing them to flee.