The remains of Staff Sgt. Ahmed Altaie, the last American service member still missing in Iraq, have been positively identified.
Altaie was serving as an Army interpreter when he was kidnapped in October 2006, after he snuck off his base in Baghdad to visit his Iraqi wife.
Ever since then, the Iraqi-born soldier from Ann Arbor, Mich., has been listed as Missing-Captured by the Defense Department.
Army spokesman Troy Rolan said that that on Saturday, Feb. 25, the Armed Forces Medical Examiner at Dover, Del., “used scientific methods on an unknown set of remains and positively identified them as those of missing-captured Staff Sgt. Ahmed Altaie.”
Army officials did not have further details about the circumstances surrounding his death or how his remains were discovered. One official said the remains had been found in Iraq earlier in the week.
McClatchy Newspapers first reported the identification of Altaie’s remains, citing family members who told the news service that a military casualty officer had knocked on the family’s home in Ann Arbor at 1 a.m. Sunday to personally convey the news.
An Army official confirmed that account to ABC News.
Altaie’s brother, Hathal Altaie, told McClatchy, “We’ve been waiting for five years, suffering, not knowing if he’s alive or dead. This was not the news we wanted, of course, but it’s better than staying like that, without ever knowing what happened to him.”
At the time of Altaie’s capture the U.S. military in Iraq conducted massive efforts to locate the missing soldier.
Relatives told McClatchy the Iraqi government had turned over his remains to the United States on Feb. 22, but the family was only notified until after forensics tests at Dover confirmed his identify.
Altaie was presumed to have been kidnapped by Iraqi insurgents who months after his capture released a video showing he was alive, but little more was heard after that.
The search will continue for the remains of Air Force Maj. Troy Gilbert, who was listed as killed in action after a small portion of his remains were positively identified following the crash of his F-16 in November 2006.
Iraqi insurgent videos made shortly after the crash showed Gilbert’s body lying nearby, but those remains were never found after U.S. forces arrived. It was the small portion of remains found on the plane’s canopy that was turned over to the Gilbert family for burial and he was listed killed in action “accounted for.”
The U.S. military continued to search for his remains until shortly before the last American troops left Iraq last December, but the family was notified later that the search would not continue after the pullout.
Gilbert’s family pressed for his status to be changed to “unaccounted for” so that the military could continue to search for his remains.
Just last week Gilbert’s family won the support of Air Force Secretary Michael Donley that the military continue the search for the rest of Gilbert’s remains, though he remains listed as killed in action, “accounted for.” A senior DOD official must still approve Donley’s request, though Gilbert’s family has been told it is just a formality.