U.S. Army arrests six suspects in deadly attack on helicopter

Soldier is killed in one of several deadly bombings

April 24, 2005|By Ahsraf Khalil | Ahsraf Khalil,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The U.S. Army arrested six Iraqi men yesterday on suspicion of involvement in the downing of a civilian helicopter Thursday that left 11 people dead.

Acting on tips from residents, soldiers from the 1st Armored Division raided a village near Taji, northwest of Baghdad, the capital.

In addition to the six suspects, they also confiscated bomb-making material.

The arrests were a rare bright spot for U.S. and Iraqi forces after more than a week of surging rebel violence.

Multiple insurgent attacks around the country yesterday killed at least 10 Iraqis and injured more than 20 others, and the military announced the death of a U.S. soldier.

Col. Clifford Kent, a spokesman for the 3rd Infantry Division, which oversees the 1st Armored Division's troops in Iraq, said residents near Taji provided U.S. troops with "detailed descriptions of the individuals, as well as their vehicles and where they live."

Although there was no evidence found directly linking the men detained to the attack, Kent said witnesses reported "the suspects being in the near vicinity of the attack at the same time it happened."

All six were being held for questioning.

Eleven civilians, including six Americans, died in the attack on the helicopter operated by Heli Air. Footage later circulated on Web sites and Arabic-language news channels showing the flaming aircraft crashing toward the ground. A second video, apparently taken immediately after the crash, showed charred bodies amid the wreckage and a lone survivor, later identified as Bulgarian pilot Lyubomir Kostov, being helped to his feet before being executed by off-camera militants.

The six Americans were employed by Blackwater Security Consulting - a subsidiary of security contractor Blackwater USA of Moyock, N.C. Four of its employees were killed and mutilated by insurgents in Fallujah a year ago.

Kent, the military spokesman, hailed the involvement of Iraqi citizens in identifying the suspects as a sign of growing disenchantment with the insurgency.

"It's not uncommon. We've had Iraqis walk out into the road in front of our convoys to warn them" of impending attacks, he said.

Elsewhere in Iraq, a roadside bomb explosion near an Iraqi army convoy near Abu Ghraib prison killed nine Iraqi army troops and injured 20 others. The surviving soldiers reportedly opened fire after the blast, killing a passing civilian in a car.

A second roadside bomb, in Anbar province near the town of Haswah, killed a U.S. soldier assigned to the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force. The name of the dead soldier wasn't released pending notification of family.

A car bomber attacked a U.S. patrol on Baghdad's notorious airport road, killing one Iraqi and wounding 10 others, including three U.S. soldiers.

In the northern city of Mosul, a television cameraman working for the Associated Press was shot to death while responding to an explosion. Saleh Ibrahim suffered three bullet wounds to the chest and died shortly after being driven to a hospital. A second AP employee, photographer Mohammed Ibrahim, was injured.

Elsewhere in Iraq:

An Iraqi civilian was killed by a roadside bomb on a highway in Samarra, police said.

A roadside bomb hit an Iraqi army convoy in Mosul, wounding three soldiers, police and hospital officials said.

A bomb exploded near a Shiite mosque in Abu al-Khasib, a town near Basra in southern Iraq. Two charred bodies were pulled from a destroyed car, and at least two Iraqis were injured, police said. A leading Sunni group, the Association of Muslim Scholars, condemned the attack in a statement late yesterday, calling it a "hideous crime" and telling the militants "[you] will not crack our unity and sow dissension between us by spitting out your venom."

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

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