Long Island Army veteran Alex Antiohos, two others released from Iraqi military custodyBY Alison Gendar
December 28, 2011
A Long Island Army veteran and two co-workers were released from Iraqi military custody Tuesday after being held for almost three weeks, a congressman said.
Alex Antiohos, a private contractor with a security firm doing work in Iraq, and his two colleagues were released from an Iraqi military compound, said Congressman Peter King (R-L.I.).
“He’s now safe, in American hands in Baghdad, supposedly well-treated, and to be coming home any day now,” King said.
The trio was stopped and detained on Dec. 9 while escorting a convoy. They were grabbed by members of the Iraqi Defense Ministry in a dispute over paperwork required for foreigners to be working in Iraq, King said.
“They had legal papers, given by the Interior Ministry, and they were stopped by Defense Ministry people who said the paperwork was invalid,” King said. “There was some internal fight within fractions in Iraq, and they were pawns.”
King said he and his staff learned of Antiohos’ dangerous predicament when the contractor’s wife, Melissa, called King’s Long Island office saying the Iraqis had arrested her husband.
King and his staff notified the White House, the State Department, the Defense Department and the Iraqi embassy and pressed for the contractor’s release.
The contractors were being held in Mahmudiyah, part of the infamous "Triangle of Death," King said.
When answers were lacking, King said he started the paperwork to send a staffer - a former intelligence officer with experience in Iraq and Afghanistan - to Iraq to press the cause.
King’s office received word Tuesday that Antiohos, 32, and colleagues Jonas March of Savannah, Ga., and Kevin Fisher of Fiji had been released.
“We needed to press, but not create a situation. Things are such that we were afraid if we didn’t get them out soon, we might not get them out at all,” said King, chairman of the House Homeland Security committee.
King said he was worried that the fact that Antiohos was a former Green Beret, and the interest from the Homeland Security committee, could hurt rather than help the effort to get the three released.
“If whatever was going on internally grew worse, they really could have been turned into real pawns,” King said.
Antiohos’ wife declined comment until her husband came home.
His mom and sister - who hadn’t known he had been detained - were stunned, but grateful.
“I remember telling him, with all the soldiers leaving Iraq, to make sure you have 14 eyes instead of just two to be alert and take care,” said his mother, Marian Sakoutis.