Car bomb explodes outside U.S. base, at least 16 people reported killed

Saturday, October 23rd 2004, 11:22 am
By: News On 6

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ A suicide car bomber set off an explosion Saturday at a police station near a U.S. Marine base in western Iraq, killing at least 16 policemen and wounding 40 other people, officials said.

The explosion occurred at about 7 a.m. outside the gates of Marine Camp Al Asad in Baghdadi, about 140 miles west of Baghdad near Ramadi, U.S. and Iraqi officials said.

No American soldiers were hurt in the attack, the U.S. military said. Some of the wounded were being treated at a U.S. military medical facility, while others were flown to civilian hospitals, a spokesman said.

The blast came hours after the U.S. military arrested an aide to Jordanian terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and five others during raids on a safe house in the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, officials said. The aide had risen to prominence in recent weeks as other al-Zarqawi staff had been killed, according to intelligence sources.

The 1:30 a.m. raid in southern Fallujah targeted a site being used as a safe haven by al-Zarqawi's inner circle, according to a military statement.

Fallujah residents said the raid occurred at the home of Abdel-Hamid Fiyadh, 50, who was arrested along with his two sons, Walid, 18, and Majid, 25, and three relatives. Relatives insisted the men had nothing to do with al-Zarqawi, who has a $25 million bounty on his head from the United States.

American forces have stepped up operations in Fallujah in a bid to root out al-Zarqawi's terror group, Tawhid and Jihad, which is believed to operate from there. The group has been blamed in numerous suicide bombings _ including recent twin blasts inside Baghdad's Green Zone, which houses the U.S and Iraqi leadership _ and beheadings of foreign hostages.

Among the most shocking of the kidnappings was that of Margaret Hassan, an aid worker with joint British, Irish and Iraqi citizenship who has spent nearly half her life delivering food and medicine in Iraq. Hassan, who is married to an Iraqi, was seized Tuesday in western Baghdad as she rode to work in her car.

On Friday, Hassan appeared in a wrenching televised statement begging for her life and urging British Prime Minister Tony Blair to withdraw his country's troops from Iraq.

``Please help me, please help me,'' Hassan, who heads CARE International's operations in Iraq, said in a grainy videotape broadcast by Al-Jazeera television. ``This might be my last hours. Please help me. Please, the British people, ask Mr. Blair to take the troops out of Iraq, and not to bring them here to Baghdad.''

The gaunt, 59-year-old woman's statement puts new political pressure on Blair's government shortly after it agreed to a U.S. request to transfer 850 British soldiers from southern Iraq to the Baghdad area to free American forces for new offensives against insurgents.

On Saturday, the victim's husband appealed to the kidnappers to free his wife ``in the name of Islam.''

``It hurts to watch my wife cry,'' Tahseen Ali Hassan said on Al-Arabiya television. ``This scene has saddened and worried her friends and loved ones. I plead with you, in the name of Islam and Arabism _ while we are in the most sacred Islamic month _ that my wife and beloved return to me.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw called the video ``extremely distressing.''

Unlike most previous hostage tapes, this one featured no hooded gunmen, no banners identifying the militant group and no explicit demands for the captive's freedom. Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based station, said it received the tape Friday but did not say where or how.

CARE International secretary-general Denis Caillaux appealed to Hassan's kidnappers Saturday to release her. Hassan has done aid work in this country for nearly 30 years. She joined CARE soon after it began operations in Iraq in 1991, managing a staff of 60 Iraqis who run nutrition, health and water programs.

``She is a naturalized Iraqi citizen and always holds the people of Iraq in her heart. CARE joins with many of the people whose lives Mrs. Hassan has touched over her decades of service in Iraq in reaching out to her captors to appeal to their humanity,'' he said on al-Jazeera.

The British and Irish governments called for her immediate release.

``Taking Margaret from her family is a cruel and shocking act,'' Irish premier Bertie Ahern said in Dublin. ``To harm her in any way would be unthinkable.''

Militants have kidnapped at least seven other foreign women over the past six months, and all were released. In September, Italian aid workers Simona Torretta and Simona Pari, both 29, were kidnapped from their Baghdad offices. They were freed three weeks later.

By contrast, at least 33 foreign male hostages have been killed, including three Americans beheaded by their captors. Insurgents, nevertheless, have targeted Iraqi women working for the Americans or their allies, including Thursday's deadly ambush on a bus carrying female airline employees on their way to work at Baghdad airport.