Five private security guards accused in a 2007 shooting that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead surrendered Monday, hours before authorities were expected to publicly announce charges against them.
The guards, who were working for Blackwater Worldwide in Baghdad at the time of the shooting, turned themselves in Monday morning at a federal courthouse in Utah.
The U.S. Justice Department, along with the FBI, was set to announce the charges against them Monday afternoon after details of the indictments were leaked to the press on Friday.
The five men are reportedly charged with manslaughter and using a machine gun in a crime of violence. Each faces the possibility of a 30-year mandatory prison term under the U.S.'s anti-machine gun law. A sixth guard struck a plea deal with prosecutors to avoid extended jail time.
Seventeen Iraqis were killed in September 2007 in a shoot-out involving a number of Blackwater guards who had been hired by the State Department and were guarding a U.S. embassy convoy in Baghdad's Nisoor Square.
Blackwater has defended its guards' actions, saying the convoy was attacked before they opened fire, but the Iraqi government's investigation found the shootings were unprovoked.
Prosecutors obtained the indictment in Washington late Thursday and had it put under seal until it is made public.
It's not clear, however, whether contractors accused of committing crimes abroad can be charged in the U.S.
It will be up to authorities to argue that the guards should be charged under a law that applies to soldiers and military contractors, which could prove challenging since they were working for the State Department and not the military.
As well, the Blackwater guards were offered limited immunity by the State Department in exchange for their sworn statements not long after the incident took place, meaning prosecutors will need to prove the strength of their case without depending on those statements.
Neither the guards nor their attorneys spoke to reporters as they entered the courthouse Monday in Salt Lake City. The Associated Press reported that the guards may seek to have the case relocated from Washington to Utah in the hopes of finding a jury pool that is more supportive of the war in Iraq.
The indicted guards are Donald Ball, of West Valley City, Utah; Dustin Heard, a former Marine from Knoxville, Tenn.; Evan Liberty, a former Marine from Rochester, N.H.; Nick Slatten, a former Army sergeant from Sparta, Tenn.; and Paul Slough, an Army veteran from Keller, Texas.