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Did Saddam have U.S. family killed?

FBI, local investigators believe Iraqi agent assassinated family of 3 in Washington, DC suburb 4 years ago.
/ Source: NBC News correspondent

Four years ago, a mysterious murder outside Washington D.C., an entire family of three killed in their home. The case has never been solved. Now federal and local authorities say there may be a connection to Iraq. Senior Investigative Correspondent Lisa Myers reports.

FEDERAL AND LOCAL law enforcement officials are confident the triple homicide was a professional hit. But who was behind it? Investigators say all leads point to Baghdad.

From almost the moment police arrived at this 2-story home in an affluent Washington suburb, they sensed this was not your typical homicide.

“In murder cases generally bullets are flying and people are hit in all different parts of the body, in this case, you don’t have that. You have people that are shot very methodically, very efficiently,” says Detective Bob Murphy.

Fuad Taima was an Iraqi businessman who came here in the 1950s and became an American citizen and his wife Dorothy. Both were shot while sitting in their living room. Upstairs, a bedroom door gunned open and their 16-year-old son Leith, also shot to death.

Talking about the crime scene, FBI special agent and profiler Brad Garrett talks about what stood out. “The absolute focus and patience of this guy, each shot is a precision shot, he shoots the Taimas both 3 times and the son twice. Each shot would have killed them.”

The most startling clue: right on the walls of the home, pictures of the murder victim with a smiling Saddam Hussein.

Through a key witness, police soon learn that two nights before, May 26th, 1999, around 7:30pm, a Middle Eastern man in his 50s had shown up at the Taima home looking for Fuad, who was at a soccer meeting.

“Dot Taima knew the man, but he made her uncomfortable. She paged her son Leith to come home so she wouldn’t be alone.”

The witness, a friend who accompanied Leith home that night and does not want to be identified, says the unexpected visitor behaved strangely.

“He was just sitting there — he could have been a statue. He was just sitting there, he didn’t move. He didn’t talk.”

She also noticed something else.

“He had a big coat on even though it was May.”

After a while, her mother called her to come home. She would never see Leith again.

Investigators say Fuad came home at 10:30pm, and within 10 minutes, the entire family was dead.

Brad Garrett of the FBI says there’s something striking distinctive about this homicide that makes it stand out - that the killer was trying to make a statement.

“Somebody that’s willing to kill an entire family to make a point and more importantly kill a family he knows — this guy is a cool customer… and absolutely cold blooded.

You want to make a statement to other people that ‘look, if you cross this line, whatever this line is, with us, this is what can happen to you.’”

But who ordered this apparent hit? Investigators strongly believe the murder had something to do with Fuad’s recent 3-week trip to Baghdad, to close an oil deal with Saddam’s government.

Longtime friend Robert Schneider talked to Fuad only days before the murders and says Fuad told him there had been a falling out and that he now feared Saddam and his regime.

“He was preoccupied, worried, and distraught. He just really wasn’t himself and that’s why I took the threat of him being killed seriously.”

Investigators suspect, but can’t prove, the hit man was an Iraqi agent.

Murphy says, “I feel very strongly at this point that’s where it’s going to lead us to Saddam Hussein.”

He does admit, it really could be anyone, but adds, ”[no one] will walk into a house and sit there for three hours and systematically at close range kill three people.”

Garrett and Murphy sent hundreds of e-mails to Fuad’s friends and international business associates looking for answers. They haven’t come.

Murphy says, “It’s bad enough that they died, but then to not know who or why makes it so much worse.”

Though the investigators don’t welcome war, they say being able to visit Baghdad and interview dozens of witnesses is the only way they’ll ever know with certainty who wiped out this family.