BEIJI, Iraq - Investigators believe a group of U.S. soldiers suspected of raping an Iraqi woman, then killing her and three members of her family plotted the attack for nearly a week, a U.S. military official said Saturday.
Up to five soldiers are being investigated in the March killings, the fifth pending case involving alleged slayings of Iraqi civilians by U.S. troops.
The Americans entered the Sunni Arab's family home, separated three males from the woman, raped her and burned her body using a flammable liquid in a cover-up attempt, a military official close to the investigation said. The three males were also slain.
The soldiers had studied their victims for about a week and the attack was "totally premeditated," the official said on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing. The family had just moved into the home in the insurgent-riddled area around Mahmoudiya, 20 miles south of Baghdad.
The U.S. military issued a terse statement about the killings Friday, saying only that Maj. Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, ordered a criminal investigation into the alleged slaying of a family of four in Mahmoudiya.
U.S. officials said they knew of the deaths but thought the victims were killed in sectarian violence. But Mahmoudiya police Capt. Ihsan Abdul-Rahman said Iraqi officials received a report on March 13 alleging that American soldiers had killed the family in the Khasir Abyad area, about 6 miles north of Mahmoudiya.