Suicide bombing using tanker truck kills 9 and wounds 14; Marines capture cell leaders loyal to al-Zarqawi

Saturday, December 25th 2004, 11:00 am
By: News On 6

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Police uncovered more bodies under the rubble Saturday after a suicide bomber blew up a gas tanker in Baghdad, bringing the death toll from the attack to at least nine, while the U.S. Marines said they captured two cell leaders loyal to Iraq's most wanted terrorist.

Police said it appeared a bomber in the explosive-laden butane truck set off the blast Friday night in the upscale Mansour district, hours after Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld left the capital following a surprise one-day visit to Iraq.

Police initially said two people were killed. But police spokesman Lt. Col. Raed Abbas said seven more bodies were discovered on Saturday underneath the rubble of one of the three houses destroyed in the blast. The Mansour district houses many foreign missions and is home to top Iraqi government officials.

At least 14 people were seriously wounded. In the nearby al-Yarmouk Hospital, several of the injured with burn blisters on their blackened faces and limbs cried and shivered in pain.

Abdel Imam, who witnessed the blast, told reporters that the gas truck drove high speed into the Mansour districts with lights turned off moments before its driver triggered the detonation. He said that ``a whole family'' perished under the rubble of one of the houses demolished in the blast.

There were no members of the multinational forces among the casualties, said Capt. Brian Lucas, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad. There were no injuries inside the embassies.

Rumsfeld's tour in Iraq took him to Mosul, Fallujah and Tikrit and the heavily barricaded Green Zone in Baghdad _ he did not visit the Mansour area. Throughout his meetings with U.S. troops, he insisted that the insurgency that plagued the country for months would be defeated.

U.S. Marines said Saturday that they captured to key leaders of local cell claiming affiliation with Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's Al-Qaida in Iraq network.

The Marines said in a statement that the two ``were cell leaders for a local Zarqawi-affiliated terrorist group that is operating'' in western Al Anbar province, which includes the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi and is a hotbed of the insurgency.

The statement said the cell ``kidnapped and executed 11 Iraqi National Guardsmen,'' carried out car bombings and other attacks in the Ramadi area and ``smuggled foreign terrorists into the country.''

Violence has escalated across Iraq even after the U.S. offensive in Fallujah last month that overran the guerrilla's main stronghold. Marines are still fighting pockets of resistance in the city, while many other insurgents are believed to have fled Fallujah, fueling the rise in violence elsewhere.

More displaced Fallujah citizens returned to inspect their devastated homes Saturday, the third day that authorities have allowed some residents back into the devastated city.

Much of Fallujah remains uninhabitable because of destroyed homes, unexploded ordinance on the streets, and a lack of water or basic supplies. But repatriating the tens of thousands of people who fled the city before the assault is a key step in the attempt to restore stability in the city ahead of Jan. 30 elections.

Many of those who have arrived were shocked and angry. Some complained the strict security measures imposed by the government and U.S. troops on the returning refugees.

``Every two hours, they are letting one car pass through the checkpoint,'' complained a returnee who identified himself only as Hassan. ``And there are so many checkpoints and measures before we can get into the city, such as sniffing dogs and mirrors being put under our cars.''

On Thursday and Friday, a total 1,404 residents returned to their homes in the Andalus district of Fallujah under the supervision of government and U.S. forces, a Marine statement said.

In developments Saturday:

_ A car bomb exploded as a U.S. military convoy was passing in the southern town of Ein al-Nus, killing three Iraqis and wounding two, police said.

_ Gunmen killed Hasan Abdul-Ghani al-Rubaei, a professor at Baghdad University's medical school, as he drove his car along Haifa Street, a main Baghdad thoroughfare where militants often launch attacks. A spokesman at Baghdad's Karkh Hospital said al-Rubaei was shot in the head twice.

_ A roadside bomb exploded near the car of the governor of eastern Diyala province wounding four of his guards, officials said. Governor Abdullah Rashid al-Jbouri was unharmed in by the blast in the town of Khan Bani Saad, halfway between Baqouba and Baghdad.

_ Iraqi police have arrested a group of six men suspected to have organized last week's explosions in the Shiite holy city of Najaf that killed more than 50 people, authorities said. Governor Adnan al-Zurufi said the six belonged to a ``terrorist cell.'' He did not release their identities or nationalities.