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WAR WITH IRAQ / AIR AND GROUND

Serviceman Held in Fatal Grenade Attack

A member of the 101st Airborne brigade is in custody after he is found hiding in the camp. The motive may be resentment.

March 23, 2003|John Hendren And David Zucchino | Times Staff Writers

CAMP THUNDER, Kuwait — One American soldier was killed and at least 12 others were wounded today when as many as three hand grenades were rolled into a brigade operations center of the 101st Airborne Division in northern Kuwait, Army officials said.

A short time later, a soldier assigned to the brigade was taken into custody after he was found hiding in a bunker within the compound. An Army spokesman said an inspection of the ammunition supply showed that four grenades were missing.

The motive for the attack was "most likely was resentment," Army spokesman Max Blumenfeld said. He did not elaborate.

The incident took place at a tightly guarded compound known as Camp Pennsylvania. Col. Ben Hodges, the brigade commander, said he was asleep in another part of the compound and was awakened by the sound of explosions and what sounded like small-arms fire.

"It looks like an assailant threw a grenade in each of these three tents," he told reporters at the compound.

The force of the blasts blew debris around the tents that housed the operations center. Time magazine correspondent Jim Lacey, who was attached to the unit, witnessed the immediate aftermath of the attack.

"The carnage in the tents was pretty severe," Lacey said.

The incident happened about 1:30 a.m. local time. The command tent operates 24 hours a day and would always be staffed by officers and senior enlisted officials.

Eleven injured soldiers were evacuated by helicopter to the Combat Service Hospital in Kuwait City, while two others were treated at the scene.

"I can confirm that one has died," said George Heath, spokesman for Ft. Campbell, Ky., the 101st's home base. He said he could not release the victim's name because the family had not yet been informed of the death.

The first reports of the incident suggested a terrorist attack, a constant concern of the military throughout the buildup of forces in Kuwait that preceded the invasion of Iraq.

Camp Pennsylvania, which houses troops, is secured by a heavily armed checkpoint and aerial surveillance and is located in a swath of Kuwait that has been cleared of everyone but the military.

After the attack, Hodges ordered that all personnel and weapons be accounted for, and the suspect could not be found. He was later found in the bunker.

The suspect converted to Islam a year ago, a U.S. defense official said, but would not speculate on whether that had any bearing on the attack.

No other details were immediately available.

The investigation will be handled by the Army's criminal investigation division.

The 101st Airborne is a rapid deployment group trained to go anywhere in the world within 36 hours. Its 22,000 members were deployed Feb. 6.

Camp Pennsylvania is a rear base camp of the 101st, near the Iraqi border. Elements of the 101st have been in Kuwait awaiting combat missions in Iraq that are expected to include protecting the oil fields in the north.

Lt. Col. Timothy Jones, commander of the 9th Battalion, 159th Aviation Brigade of the 101st, said soldiers were incredulous that the attack might have been carried out by one of their own.

"This is truly hard to imagine what would have driven one of our soldiers to do this, especially at a time like this," he said. "It really does a disservice to all the other soldiers serving honorably in this division."

Late last year, Islamic militants attacked Marines training on Kuwait's Faylakah Island, killing one soldier before they were killed.

In January, two American civilian contractors working at a U.S. military base in Kuwait were gunned down as they waited in their vehicle at a traffic light in Kuwait City.

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Hendren reported from Washington and Zucchino from Kuwait..

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