2 Americans, 19 others killed by blasts in Iraq

Kidnappers release video of a Briton, 2 U.S. workers

September 19, 2004|By Ashraf Khalil | Ashraf Khalil,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Insurgents detonated three car bombs yesterday in their campaign against Iraqi security forces and U.S.-led troops, killing 19 people in a crowd outside a national guard recruiting station in Kirkuk and two U.S. soldiers on the road to the Baghdad airport.

Kidnappers also released the first video images of two Americans and a Briton who were seized Thursday at a residence in Baghdad, the capital. Each man identified himself and repeated an identical phrase specifying the work they had been doing in Iraq.

Al-Jazeera satellite channel, which broadcast the tape, said that the kidnappers were militants loyal to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Al-Jazeera also broadcast a videotape of what it said were 10 kidnapped employees of a Turkish-American company. Their captors threatened to execute them in three days if the company did not cease operations in Iraq.

The Kirkuk car bomb sent shrapnel tearing through a crowd of young men gathered outside a recruiting center to apply for jobs in the nascent Iraqi National Guard.

"From the early morning I saw a big number of young men in front of the building," said Yawiz Qadir, a 44-year-old mechanic who was in his garage nearby when the bomber struck. "I saw the fire and smoke rising upwards from the place where all the young men were."

In addition to the 19 killed, 67 people were wounded by the Kirkuk blast.

Many undeterred

Applicants for jobs in the security forces, who often crowd around the gates to bases or police stations, have been a prime target for bombers. On Tuesday, a car bomb outside a Baghdad police recruiting station killed 47 people. On Sept. 4, a suicide car bomb outside a police station in Kirkuk killed 17 people.

The tactic is intended to discourage Iraqis from joining the security forces, but judging from the crowds that continue to gather outside recruiting centers, Iraqis remain willing to brave the risks. Most of those who gather there proclaim a mixture of patriotism and desperation for one of the relatively few available jobs.

In Baghdad, a pair of suicide bombers struck U.S. convoys along the same stretch of road leading to the airport.

According to the U.S. military, the first car bomb wounded three soldiers.

The second bomber struck a U.S. reaction team en route to the site of the first bombing a half-hour later, raising the possibility that the attacks were coordinated. That blast killed two soldiers and wounded eight others.

An Iraqi National Guard officer at the scene said the bomber detonated a Volkswagen Passat in the middle of the convoy.

He said U.S. troops at the scene were visibly distraught.

U.S. troops shut down the airport road, west of Baghdad, for several hours, causing substantial traffic delays throughout the city.

The road, considered one of the riskiest in the city, has been the site of dozens of deadly attacks.

A U.S. military spokesman, Rear Adm. Greg Slavonic, said he didn't know if the bombers worked in tandem, but said the incidents were under investigation.

Students wounded

North of the capital, 11 students at the Baquba Technical College were wounded when a mortar round struck near the school grounds.

The mortar had been fired at a group of Iraqi police and national guard troops who were responding to a report of a roadside bomb explosion, a U.S. military statement said.

Despite the bloodshed, Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi insisted that the opposition was not getting stronger, only more desperate. In an interview to be aired this morning on ABC's This Week With George Stephanopoulos, Allawi pointed to success in trouble spots such as the city of Samarra.

He said his forces were preparing to go into another major hot spot, Fallujah, but did not give a timetable. Allawi will be visiting Washington and the United Nations this week.

Al-Jazeera's video showed pictures of the three Western hostages taken Thursday in Baghdad: Americans Jack Hensley and Eugene "Jack" Armstrong, and Kenneth Bigley of Britain.

They were shown blindfolded and seated on the floor in front of a black-clad man reading a statement.

Each man identified himself and repeated an identical phrase that their job was "installing and furnishing camps at the Taji Base."

Women's release

Taji is a large U.S. encampment just north of the capital. Their captors demanded the release of Iraqi women detained in two U.S.-run prisons.

In Armstrong's hometown of Hillsdale, Mich., his brother, Frank Armstrong, said he'd spoken with the FBI about the abduction but declined to comment further.

"We only know what they're showing on television," said Minnta Davis, Armstrong's cousin. "We just know there are just a lot of prayers for him."

Gulf Supplies and Commercial Services, the employer of the kidnapped Americans and Briton, refused to comment on the tape when contacted by the Associated Press.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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