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Iraqi Officials Hold Answer to Pilot's Fate

Iraqi Officials Hold Answer to Pilot's Fate

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The key to locating the only American missing from the first Gulf War will be finding the former Iraqi government officials who know about Saddam Hussein's super-secret prison system, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said Thursday.

American investigators in Iraq found the initials of Navy pilot Michael Scott Speicher, etched into a prison wall in Baghdad, U.S. officials said Wednesday. It is not known who scrawled the letters "MSS" into a cell wall in the Hakmiyah prison, or whether the letters had anything to do with the missing pilot.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said an informant also had reported that an American pilot was held at that prison in the mid-1990s.

Nelson, in an interview on CBS's "The Early Show", said there is evidence other than the initials that also suggests Speicher was held at that prison. But he said the Iraqi regime moved important prisoners frequently from prison to prison.

"That's the key, finding the one of the 55 Iraqi individuals who has the keys to unlock those secrets of that super-secret prison and give the information about the fate of Scott," Nelson said. "And then once we've got that, then we'll know, we'll be able to go get him."

A joint team of officials from the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency is in Iraq, searching for clues to Speicher's fate.

Cindy Laquidara, an attorney for the Speicher family, said the family is "very excited that we may be getting to the end of this" and remains convinced that Speicher is alive.

Speicher, an F/A-18 Hornet pilot from Jacksonville, Fla., and three other pilots flew off the USS Saratoga for a bombing run over Iraq on Jan. 17, 1991, the first night of the war. During the mission, another Hornet pilot saw a flash and lost sight of Speicher.

The next morning, the Defense Department announced that Speicher's plane had been downed by an Iraqi missile. Several months later the Pentagon classified the pilot as killed in action, but changed that last year to "missing in action, captured."

Intelligence reports from several sources led to the change, officials said.

Iraq officials have said Speicher was killed in the crash.

Speicher's flight suit was found at the crash site and there have been persistent intelligence reports about a U.S. pilot held in Baghdad.

Only one U.S. service member remains listed as missing from the second Iraq war -- Army Sgt. Edward J. Anguiano, 24, of Brownsville, Texas, who disappeared after his convoy was ambushed March 23.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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