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Contractors involved in shooting are virtual prisoners, attorney says

  • Story Highlights
  • Four former contractors held in a safe house in a mosque, attorney says
  • Paravant says former employees told not to leave country without U.S. approval
  • Sources say Paravant linked to firm with same owner as Blackwater
  • At least two Afghans wounded in shooting after car accident
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(CNN) -- Four security contractors under investigation by the U.S. military for a shooting in Afghanistan are being held against their will by their former employer, their lawyer told CNN on Saturday.

Not true, says Paravant, the employer. It said that while the former employees have been "instructed not to leave the country without the approval and direction of the Department of Defense," they haven't been constrained by the company.

Paravant is affiliated with Xe, the new company name for the security contractor Blackwater Worldwide, according to sources familiar with the incident. Paravant is owned by Erik Prince, who is also the owner of Xe.

The Iraqi government says Blackwater security guards killed 17 Iraqi civilians in September 2007. Blackwater lost its contract there after Iraq's government refused to renew the firm's operating license.

Dan Callahan, the attorney for the four in Afghanistan, said Xe has been interviewing them about the May 5 incident in Kabul.

Callahan said the contractors acted appropriately in the incident, which began after a traffic accident.

He said one car slammed into another and the contractors got out to help the people who were rear-ended.

"The attacking vehicle did a U-turn and headed back at them, so they shot," Callahan said.

Two people were wounded.

The U.S. military provided a similar account of the incident, saying the contractors "were approached by a vehicle in a manner the contractors felt threatening."

Callahan said Xe is engaging in "false imprisonment" by keeping the men in a safe house in a mosque. They are mostly kept in one room but are free to leave that space and eat in other rooms. They've been able to get calls via Skype, the telephone service over the Internet, he said.

"They should be allowed to leave and not be treated as a pawn in negotiations with the Afghan government" to keep the company from losing its license to operate there, Callahan said.

The four have had their contracts terminated "for failure to comply with the terms of their contract, which require, among other things, compliance with all laws, regulations and company policies," Xe said.

Xe denied Callahan's claims about false imprisonment.

"Consistent with Paravant's obligation and desire to cooperate with the investigation, the company instructed the four terminated individuals to remain in Afghanistan pending approval from the proper DoD authorities," the company said.

It said the company continues to ask the Pentagon about the men's travel status.

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"Paravant in no way has restrained these individuals. The company again renewed its request to DoD today to obtain assurance that the proper DoD authorities have granted permission for the four individuals to leave the country," it said.

One company source said that while the four are free to leave, the company won't buy them one-way tickets home and want the men to remain in the country for a meeting next week with military officials investigating the incident.

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