Suicide blasts in Green Zone

4 Americans among dead in Baghdad compound

October 15, 2004|By Edmund Sanders | Edmund Sanders,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Two suicide bombers detonated explosives-laden backpacks yesterday inside the heavily barricaded Green Zone, killing four Americans and at least two other civilians, in the first suicide attacks within the area housing offices of the interim Iraqi government and the U.S. and British embassies.

More than 18 others were wounded in two blasts - occurring seconds apart - at the Green Zone Restaurant and Coffee Shop and a nearby marketplace where dozens of Iraqi vendors hawk soda, DVDs, electronics and other goods.

U.S. and Iraqi officials said the attacks inside the Green Zone are likely the start of an onslaught of violence during Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, which begins today. Last year, violence spiked during the same period.

Also yesterday, four U.S. soldiers were killed in various attacks by insurgents.

Two died after their vehicle was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade in Ramadi. Another was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad and the fourth was hit with small-arms fire while on patrol, the military said.

The four soldiers' deaths brought to 1,081 the number of U.S. military personnel killed since the United States invaded Iraq 18 months ago.

The suicide bombings marked the most deadly attacks inside the U.S.-controlled Green Zone, a four-square-mile compound surrounded by blast walls, concertina wire and armed checkpoints.

Urban haven

Home to thousands of American soldiers, diplomats, contractors and Iraqi employees, the Green Zone was designed to serve as a haven for Westerners in Iraq. Many of its residents do not venture outside the protected compound.

But it has become a frequent target for insurgents. Last week, military officials safely removed a shopping bag containing a small bomb left in the same Green Zone restaurant, which is popular with foreigners.

About noon yesterday, while about 18 other patrons ate lunch, two men who appeared to be in their mid-20s, dressed in jeans and T-shirts, entered the cafe carrying black backpacks over their shoulders, witnesses said.

The men ordered two cups of tea, sat down and talked for about 20 minutes, witnesses said. One man kept his hand inside the backpack as they spoke, according to Abdul Razak Mohammed, 32, a waiter at the cafe.

Mohammed said he had never seen the men in the restaurant and asked where they were from. They told him they were Jordanian, he said.

After a while, one of the men stood and began talking intently to the other. "We think he was brainwashing him, telling him what to do," Mohammed said.

The man who appeared to be the more confident of the two then left the cafe and was seen getting into a taxi, which he apparently rode a short distance to the shopping bazaar.

About five minutes later, Mohammed "Mo" Nawaf Obeidi, 25, who was sitting at the restaurant, heard a huge explosion at the bazaar.

"I knew something else was going to happen then," Obeidi said. Seconds later, the restaurant - housed in a large canvas-covered metal tent with rows of picnic tables - was destroyed by the second blast.

"People were screaming. I was on the floor," said Obeidi, who operates his own restaurant in the Green Zone and was injured in the hand by flying glass. "People were stampeding, trying to get out."

Tawhid and Jihad, an Islamist group led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed responsibility for the blasts, which left deep craters in the ground and scattered glass, blood and pieces of broken plastic furniture across a large area.

Restaurant employees, bandaged and still shaken from the blast, sat in the rubble as U.S. and Iraqi investigators searched for clues.

Shops destroyed

At the marketplace, more than dozen shops were destroyed and a subsequent fire sent huge plumes of smoke that could be seen from across the city. Three hours after the attack, emergency workers treated the wounded, many of whom suffered from burns and shrapnel wounds.

The four Americans who died in the bazaar attack worked for DynCorp security company. DynCorp trains security personnel and police in Iraq and carries out contracts for the FBI and other federal agencies. It was bought by Computer Sciences Corp. of El Segundo, Calif., last year.

A company statement identified the dead employees as John Pinsonneault, 39, of North Branch, Minn.; Steve Osborne, 40, of Kennesaw, Ga; and Eric Miner, 44, of South Windham, Conn. The statement said Ferdinand Ibaboa, 36, of Mesa, Ariz., was missing and presumed dead.

"The management and staff of CSC and its DynCorp International business unit stand united in our sadness over the deaths and injuries of our employees," said the statement by CSC, which has lost at least three other DynCorp employees in previous attacks.

In the aftermath of the attack, U.S. military officials tightened security inside the zone, sending workers home and blocking access to the restaurant and bazaar. Most contractors issued "lock-down" orders, advising their employees to stay inside their hotel rooms or trailers until further notice.

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