Sunday, December 09, 2007

Safa Shukir & the Phone Call

Excerpt from Death of a Contractor

On October 9th, not long after he and Phillips tried to take half of Ultra Services from Dawkins and create a rival company, Kirk von Ackermann visited FOB McKenzie, a U.S. forward operating base near Samarra. After meeting with a Turkish subcontractor, he left the base behind the wheel of his Nissan Patrol SUV. He was alone.

A short time after leaving the base, von Ackermann called Safa Shukir, an Iraqi employee of Ultra Services, to say he had a flat tire and needed help. Shukir drove out to meet him at the mountain pass where he had pulled over. It was a dangerous place -- von Ackermann had warned his co-workers that it was an ideal site for an ambush. When Shukir arrived, forty-five minutes after von Ackermann called, he found the SUV on the side of the road, abandoned. There was no sign of struggle. Von Ackermann's laptop, his satellite phone and $40,000 in cash he had been carrying were still in the car. But there was no sign of von Ackermann.
Not much is known about Safa Shukir. More questions.

Why did von Ackermann call Safa Shukir?

How old is Shukir? Is he fluent in English? Did von Ackermann try to call any one else first? Did he call any one else after he spoke with Shukir? CID must have looked at his satellite phone service records but as far as I know, that information has never been divulged.

Why did von Ackermann choose to call an Iraqi employee instead of one of his contacts at the local US bases. Does that sound like a stretch? Von Ackermann was former US Army and US Air Force and, my understanding is, he wasn't shy about letting officers he was doing business with know his past experience. I understand he even crashed on base a couple of times when it got a little too late.

Why didn't he call someone at FOB McKenzie for help?

When I was a teenager, one of my best friends and I looked a lot alike. I'll call her Jane. Jane and I were both the same height. Same weight. Same color and length of hair -- although hers was a bit sleeker than mine. Jane and I dressed in the same brands of clothes, wore the same shoes. And I could do a great impression of Jane's voice and pattern of speech. One of Jane's favorite pranks was to have me call another close friend of ours and pretend to be Jane. We never got caught. I think I even fooled her mother once. Lots of giggles at the time... But today, those pranks make me wonder about Kirk's phone call to Safa Shukir.

Could Shukir recognize another American man's voice if that person identified themselves first as Kirk?

I don't doubt that someone made a phone call from Kirk von Ackermann's satellite phone to Safa Shukir and that Safa Shukir believed he was speaking with Kirk von Ackermann. But there's this little question in my mind -- could Shukir really recognize different American men's voices over the phone?

Car Photo

Continuing the thread of my last post on Kirk's Car. Photo of a 2003 Nissan Patrol SUV in Australia, similar to the car Kirk von Ackermann is reported to have been driving when he disappeared. Don't actually know which year or color but thought you'd like to see one for reference.


For Kirk said...

I'll try to help where I can.

I know nothing about Shukir - never knew the name until the article came out. I do know that Kirk liked the employees he worked with but he never mentioned names and never told me anything about them. This, for Kirk, is an interesting thing because Kirk was an inveterate story teller - loved to talk about the interesting people he knew. Not talking about them meant either no one had said/done anything Kirk considered interesting, he hadn't spent much time with them or he simply didn't know them well enough.

Why didn't he call the Americans?
An excellent question. I can confirm that he did indeed stay on base when necessary - he called me at least once and said directly that he was on base that night and it's likely there were other times as well. He was closely interacting with the military, talking to them for instance about bringing in movies and other things the soldiers might want. I am absolutely sure that he told them about his military experience - it's one of the quickest ways to make a connection.

Finally - car photo. From my notes the CID said that the car Kirk was driving was white so this photo should be very close.

Susie Dow said...

I've heard it was not uncommon for American contractors to stay overnight on base if it grew late. There were both curfews and travel restrictions in place at the time. I'll check in with some people and confirm this in more detail.

Did CID give any indication what time Kirk called Safa Shukir or what time Shukir found Kirk's car?

My next two questions:

Where was Safa Shukir coming from and where was Kirk going to?

For Kirk said...

I'm working from memory here, so forgive me. I have a feeling it was morning when Kirk went missing - around 10, but as soon as I write that I start doubting myself. I'll have to go home and look that up for you. It seems stupid not to know every detail but the fact is that I wasn't called, didn't find out about it, until the 10th so for me the "real" moment is sort of the phone call I got the next morning from Kirk's colleague.

I understand that Shukir got to the car within an hour of Kirk's call - maybe even less. Also I think there was a report given in at the nearby checkpoint of an abandoned car very soon after Kirk had made the phone call (again, going off memory here). I remember when the CID was telling me the timeline that whoever grabbed Kirk had had only the smallest window of time - maybe a matter of minutes - to find him and not have any witnesses.

It's funny but until you asked some of these questions I really hadn't realized how much of what I "know" is assumption. I assume Shukir was coming from the Kirkuk office - but he might have been coming up from Baghdad. I assume Kirk was heading back to Kirkuk as well, but he could have been going all the way to the border or going back to base or something.