Suicide bomb kills 5, injures 37 at Shiite mosque in Iraq

Attacker apparently made lethal device of propane tank, delivered by bicycle

January 10, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BAQUBAH, Iraq - A suicide bomber armed with an explosive fashioned from a propane tank blew himself up outside a Shiite mosque here as prayers drew to a close yesterday, killing four other people and wounding 37.

In Baghdad, insurgents fired at least three rockets at the Bourj al-Hayat Hotel, home to many Western contractors. No one was hurt in the early-morning attack.

The Bourj al-Hayat, in downtown Baghdad, was one of several hotels attacked with rocket-propelled grenades on Christmas morning.

In Tikrit, in the north, U.S. troops raided several houses in a search for men loyal to Saddam Hussein, the Associated Press reported.

The military said 30 men had been detained, including 14 suspected of orchestrating, financing or carrying out attacks on U.S. soldiers.

Although Baqubah, 45 miles northeast of Baghdad, is the provincial capital of a predominantly Sunni region, most Iraqis do not consider the city a staunch base of support for the old government, as some towns north of Baghdad are.

Still, U.S. soldiers are routinely attacked in the area.

Last fall the town was shaken by a mortar attack that killed seven people and an explosion outside a police station that killed five.

The attack in Baqubah yesterday was a faint echo of an enormous car bomb assault in Najaf in August outside the holiest Shiite shrine, the Imam Ali mosque, which killed at least 95 people, including Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim, a revered Shiite leader and a longtime opponent of Hussein.

Then, as now, concerns arose among Iraqis that the attack was meant to ignite sectarian fighting, something that so far has been avoided amid other violence in Iraq.

The Sadiq Mohammed mosque, the one attacked yesterday in Baqubah, is a small sanctuary for neighborhood people at a bustling intersection in a district called Jihad.

The outer walls were pocked with shrapnel. Just around the corner from the entrance stood the charred shell of what had been an old orange-and-white taxi, a pool of bloody water stretching along the driver's side.

Across the narrow street from the taxi was a median dented with a 2-foot-deep crater where the bomb apparently went off about 1:30 p.m., witnesses said.

About 200 worshipers were finishing Friday prayers inside the tiny mosque and on a lane outside, perpendicular to the busy street where the bomb exploded.

Ahmed Ali, a 21-year-old college student, stood with the others, his palms facing him as part of prayer, when a loud explosion knocked four men behind him on top of him. Windows in the mosque shattered, Ali said, and worshipers huddled in a corner for a few minutes before venturing outside to see what had happened.

The air was black with smoke. People lay wounded on the street. On a near corner lay a man who had lost his leg. Two people by the car had been killed.

"Whoever did this wants to create strife between the Shia and the Sunni," Ali said, "but that will never happen."

Rumors swirled near the blast site, as often happens after such incidents, that the Americans were involved.

But many bystanders and at least one witness said a man on a bicycle carrying what looked like a cooking-gas cylinder came up to the mosque and wanted to park his bicycle against its outer wall. When he was rebuffed, he went to the median across the street, where the crater now gapes.

"First people said that maybe just a gas cylinder exploded," said Majid Nahar, a 35-year-old businessman who had just finished prayers and was about 100 yards from the entrance to the mosque when the explosion struck. "Then we found pieces in a nearby car that looked different, that looked like a bomb."

Master Sgt. Robert Cargie, a spokesman for the 4th Infantry Division, which has responsibility for Baqubah, said the military's preliminary investigation showed that the bomb was "mobile," though he had not heard of the bicycle.

He said the bomber tried to enter the mosque with a bomb made from a propane tank, and when he was refused, he went a short distance away and exploded it, and himself.

The wounded were taken to Baqubah General Hospital, the site of an attack on American soldiers in late July that killed three of them.

On the hospital's second floor, relatives of Adel Muhammad, 35, who was wounded by shrapnel in his right arm and leg, stood vigil.

At the end of the hall, the family of an older man huddled and pondered how to tell him that he had lost his leg.

"We've had to deal with this three times already," said a 30-year-old doctor at the hospital. "Psychologically, you get used to it."

He then corrected himself and said, "It is miserable."

Killed in Iraq

The latest identifications of American military personnel killed in Iraq:

Army Chief Warrant Officer Aaron Weaver, 32, Inverness, Fla.; killed Thursday in a helicopter crash near Fallujah, Iraq; assigned to 82nd Airborne Division; Fort Bragg, N.C.

- Associated Press

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