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Friend: Berg said he was in U.S. custody


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A photo of Berg is taped to a neighbor's mailbox in front of his Pennsylvania home.
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Americans are outraged over Nick Berg's death, but none more so than those who knew him.

The grisly execution of Nicholas Berg prompts outrage and brings vows to hunt down the hooded killers responsible.

A portion of the video shows Berg and his killers speaking to the camera. NOTE: The slaying is not shown.
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Slain American Nicholas Berg told a friend that he had been arrested by Iraqi police, detained briefly, and then handed over to U.S. troops who held him in a coalition facility for almost two weeks, the friend said.

Chilean freelance journalist Hugo Infante told CNN that weeks before the videotape of Berg's grisly death emerged on the Internet, "Nick told me, 'Iraqi police caught me one night, they saw my passport and my Jewish last name and my Israeli stamp. This guy thought I was a spy so they put me with American soldiers and American soldiers put me in a jail for two weeks.'"

Infante stays at the $30-a-night Al Fanar Hotel, where Berg was staying, and regularly chatted and shared drinks with him.

Infante said Berg told him that Iraqi police were suspicious of the electronics equipment he was carrying for his work on radio communications towers when he was arrested in Mosul.

Infante's comments about Berg's whereabouts during that time period echo those made by Berg's family.

Infante's statements come a day after coalition authorities in Baghdad denied they had held Berg between March 24 and April 6, saying that he was in sole custody of Iraqi police. (Full story)

Coalition spokesman Dan Senor said Berg was visited three times by FBI agents while he was in custody of Iraqi police. He said the agents concluded Berg was not involved in terrorist or criminal acts and referred other questions relating to Berg's detention to Mosul police.

The FBI confirmed its agents met with Berg, and also said the Coalition Provisional Authority offered Berg safe passage out of Iraq upon his release.

FBI agents "encouraged him to accept CPA's offer to facilitate his safe passage out of Iraq. Mr. Berg refused these offers," the FBI said in a statement.

Infante said Berg had told him he was held in a coalition facility where Syrians, Egyptians, Jordanians and Iranians suspected of entering Iraq illegally were also detained.

Berg's father Michael said it was the family's understanding that Nicholas was in U.S. custody. The family filed a lawsuit on April 5 against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, accusing the U.S. government of holding Berg without merit.

Berg was released the next day and the lawsuit was declared moot.

"I still hold (Rumsfeld) responsible because if they had let him go after a more reasonable amount of time or if they had given him access to lawyers we could have gotten him out of there before the hostilities escalated," the father told Boston's WBUR radio station.

"That's really what cost my son his life was the fact that the U.S. government saw fit to keep him in custody for 13 days without any of his due process or civil rights."

Berg's brother David told reporters Wednesday that the family received e-mails from Berg after his release in which he made clear he had been held by U.S. forces.

Infante and another friend of Berg's, Colorado businessman Andy Duke, said they last saw Berg on the evening of April 9, at the Al Fanar Hotel three days after his release from Mosul.

Infante said he thought Berg was intending to go to Baghdad Airport the following morning and take a flight back to the United States.

The next he heard of Berg was when he heard news of his death.

"I thought he was back in the States. And I thought, my God, this is the guy. A different guy. More skinny, more pallid," Infante said.

Duke shared that shock. Another hotel guest woke Duke around midnight Tuesday.

"I looked at the Internet and there was that truly disgusting video. I couldn't look but turned away. But I heard the sounds," he said.

The beheading of Berg was shown in a video that was posted Tuesday on an Islamic Web site. (Full story)

Duke, like Berg, is a self-employed businessman. He said there were many others like him who arrived in Baghdad looking for work and were successful.

"Nick loved what he did. He was a risk-taker. He was a very robust young man, well-organized and well-prepared and this adventure was something he enjoyed and savored," he said.


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