Mosul, Iraq - Iraqi police never detained an American whose decapitated body was found last week in Baghdad, the police chief said Thursday, despite US insistence that Nicholas Berg was held by local authorities here shortly before he disappeared last month.
Berg's family blames American authorities for detaining the 26-year-old telecommunications businessman until a flare-up of anti-American violence, which set the stage for his abduction and death.
The young man was beheaded on a video posted on Tuesday on an al-Qaeda-affiliated website. It bore the title Abu Musab al-Zarqawi shown slaughtering an American, referring to an associate of Osama bin Laden.
In Baghdad, a US spokesperson said Iraqi police arrested Berg in Mosul on March 24 because local authorities believed he may have been involved in "suspicious activities". He would not elaborate but insisted American authorities had not held Berg although the FBI visited him three times before he was released April 6.
However, police chief Major General Mohammed Khair al-Barhawi told reporters Thursday that his department had never arrested Berg.
"The Iraqi police never arrested the slain American," he said. "Take it from me... that such reports are baseless."
Berg went to Baghdad after his release and disappeared on April 10. US officials offered him a flight to Jordan but he was afraid to travel to the airport because of ambushes along the highway.
Despite the police chief's statement, a US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Berg was detained by Iraqi authorities "for his own protection" because his behaviour in Mosul seemed unusual for a westerner.
He had been seen travelling in taxis and moving about the dangerous city without any escort, the official said. He added that Berg, who was Jewish, had written materials which were "anti-Semitic" in tone, the official said without elaborating.
All that raised suspicions about what he was doing in Iraq.