The Washington Post is reporting that the body of 25-year-old La David Johnson, one of the four U.S. servicemen killed last month in Niger by militants, was found with arms bound, apparently executed, according to villagers.
The Post said Friday that two villagers in the remote village of Tongo Tongo told reporters some children found Johnson’s remains Oct. 6, two days after the attack that killed the four U.S. servicemen and five Nigerien soldiers.
When Johnson was found, he was lying face down, there was a wound to the back of his head and his arms were bound with rope, raising the possibility that Johnson had been taken captive by the attackers, villagers told the Post.
The Pentagon has said the attackers are suspected to have been affiliated with Islamic State.
Village chief Mounkaila Alassane confirmed to the Post in a telephone interview that Johnson’s body was found without his shoes, and speculated that the back of the Army sergeant’s head had been smashed with a heavy object, such as a hammer.
A U.S. official who spoke to the Post on condition of anonymity said Johnson’s head had indeed been damaged but denied that his hands were tied. He cautioned against drawing any conclusions until the investigation into the incident is complete.
The account, if true, could help explain why Johnson’s body was found two days later than the bodies of his three compatriots, who were discovered just hours after the attack — one inside a pickup and two more on the ground, one clutching a walkie-talkie.
Earlier this month, however, a U.S. official told VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb there was “no indication” that Johnson was ever in the custody of hostile forces.
Johnson’s fellow soldiers killed in the attack were Bryan Black, 35; Jeremiah Johnson, 39; and Dustin Wright, age 29.
The attack has come under intense scrutiny in the United States, where the Pentagon’s initial account of the attack has been questioned. Lawmakers have complained that they received insufficient or conflicting information on the details of the incident.
Pentagon authorities are investigating.
The U.S. military is helping Niger deal with threats by members of Islamic State and al-Qaida, but deaths of U.S. servicemen in Niger are rare.