Monday, September 06, 2004

Death Toll Rises to 70 in Suicide Bombing

By HADI AWAD, Associated Press Writer
BAQOUBA, Iraq - Iraqi health officials on Thursday raised the death toll to 70 from a suicide car bomb that devastated a busy, shop-filled street in Baqouba, while militants said they had killed two adbucted Pakistani contractors but freed their Iraq driver.
In a videotape sent to Pan-Arab TV station Al-Jazeera Wednesday, a group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq said they had carried out a threat to kill the Pakistanis because their country was discussing sending troops to Iraq . The newsreader said the video showed the corpses of the two men, but the station declined to show the footage.
The men were identified by Pakistan as engineer Raja Azad, 49, and driver Sajad Naeem, 29, both of whom worked for the Kuwait-based al-Tamimi group in Baghdad .
"Those who have committed this crime have caused the greatest harm both to humanity and Islam," a statement from Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and his prime minister said Thursday.
Also Thurday, according to a videotape aired on Al-Jazeera, the terrorist group of Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi kidnapped a Somali truck driver working for a Kuwaiti company in Iraq .
Meanwhile on Thursday, Iraqi Healty Ministry spokesman Saad al-Amili raised the death toll for a massive suicide bombing a day earlier in Baqouba, a city 35 miles northeast of Baghdad , to 70 from 68. He said that 56 people were injured.
Casualties from the vehicle-born bomb blast, which targeted an Iraqi men waiting outside a police station to apply to join the police, overwhelmed Baqouba's hospital.
The blast, one of the deadliest single-bomb attacks since Saddam Hussein's fall more than a year ago, came just three days before the country is to convene a national conference that will choose an interim assembly — considered a crucial step toward establishing democracy.
Across Iraq , U.S. and other coalition forces fought a series of gunbattles with insurgents.
In one clash with militants thought to have crossed over from Iran , 35 insurgents and seven Iraqi police were killed near the south-central Iraqi city of Suwariyah . Polish Lt. Col. Artur Domanski, a multinational force spokesman, said he had no information on whether the insurgents were foreign fighters or Iraqi militants.
Also Wednesday, the military said clashes throughout Anbar province killed two coalition troops, and two U.S. soldiers were killed in separate roadside bombing attacks.
Their deaths raised the toll of U.S. military personnel killed in Iraq to at least 906 since the war began, according to an Associated Press tally.
The large number of civilian casualties in attacks has angered many and even raised questions on Islamic Web sites, where the morality of killing Muslims who work for U.S. coalition forces in Iraq has been debated.
In an audio recording posted Wednesday on one site, a speaker purported to be the spiritual adviser of an Iraqi insurgency group justified killing fellow Muslims when they protect infidels and also the deaths of bystanders in an attack.
"If infidels take Muslims as protectors and Muslims do not fight them, it is allowed to kill the Muslims," said the speaker, identified as Sheik Abu Anas al-Shami, spiritual leader of Tawhid and Jihad, a group led by al-Qaida-linked Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
The speaker also said that if Muslims who "mingled" among infidels were killed in an attack, that would be justified because killing infidels is paramount. The tape was recorded before the June 28 handover of power.
The attack in Baqouba targeted a police station, and many of the dead and wounded were among the hundreds of Iraqis gathered outside hoping to join the force, police said. The blast also ripped through a passing bus, killing 21.
Barham Saleh, deputy prime minister for national security, blamed foreign fighters and Saddam loyalists for the 10:13 a.m. bombing in Baqouba, once a center of support for Saddam that is now a hotbed for the insurgency. Saleh called the attack "a cowardly act carried out by the treacherous pawns of terrorism."
The street in central Baqouba was soaked with blood and strewn with corpses. Scorched bodies — some with their clothes blown off — lay in the middle of the road, up against nearby buildings and under burned, crushed vehicles. A white metal security gate outside a shop was stained red.
The morgue — its floor red with blood and blackened where charred corpses had been dragged — overflowed with bodies stacked on top of each other in the refrigerator. The bodies that did not fit were lined up on the ground outside, some covered with blankets, one with only palm fronds.
One man collapsed in grief as he found his son's lifeless body. "It's Hatem, it's Hatem," he wailed.
Witnesses said the bomb targeted men waiting outside the al-Najda police station trying to sign up for the force.
"As one of the officers was giving us instructions on how to register we heard a big explosion," said Sabah Nouri, 33, whose left leg and hand were injured. "Suddenly I found myself being thrown to the ground, and I was unable to move. Then some people lifted me and took me to the hospital."
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