OPERATING BASE Q-WEST, Iraq - Military Police officers with the 2/198th Combined Arms Battalion, Mississippi Army National Guard, detained five Sri Lankan contract workers here July 23, and recovered approximately $11,000 in stolen merchandise.

The Mississippi Military Police officers initially took custody of three third-country nationals, the military term for personnel not from Iraq or Coalition nations.

After a swift investigation, they apprehended another two, all of whom were fired and returned to their home country.

"This is the largest recovery of stolen goods I have seen in five years in Iraq," said Michael R. Reyana, a contract security manager from Houston. "The MPs did an outstanding job of tracking down the stolen items and uncovering what we believe was a theft-ring that had operated here for a few months."

Staff Sgt. Jonathan E. Williams, a native of Grenada, Miss., said he was flagged down by a salesman from Katar Plaza, one of the Turkish-operated shopping facilities on base, during a routine patrol, who told him that three TCNs had stolen from his store.

The shoplifters were caught trying to enter a secure facility.

"I saw them running from the Katar Plaza salesman," said Edgar Mugabi, a security specialist from Kampala, Uganda. "When they would try to enter our compound, I stopped them with my weapon."

MPs found missing merchandise on the men.

"We searched the TCNs and found a backpack full of watches, shoes, women's clothing, t-shirts, pants, cologne, perfume, and other stuff from Katar Plaza," said Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth E. Guess, a native of Nettleton, Miss. "When we expanded our investigation to their living area, that's when we realized this was more than just a few guys shoplifting."

The MPs recovered hundreds of retail items, many still carrying price tags from Katar Plaza.

Two additional TCNs were at work during the search, but the MPs coordinated with the contract security team to apprehend them.

"We have not had problems like this before. When we noticed the shelves getting empty over the last days, we were so happy that business was good. Then we saw the thieves," said Abit Basak, supervisor of Katar Plaza.

The Turkish civilians operating Katar Plaza, which is akin to a small strip mall, said they appreciated the help from the MPs.

"The MPs helped us a lot," said salesman Asalan Kasim, of Sanliurfa, Turkey. "We are very grateful."
"We just want to show the community that we're here for their well-being," said Capt. Demetrius Q. Wilson, provost marshal, and native of Crawford, Miss. "Also, we want to show anyone thinking about committing a crime that we mean business."