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Baghdad Hotel Hit by Suicide Bomber

January 28, 2004|Alissa J. Rubin, Patrick J. McDonnell and Edmund Sanders | Times Staff Writers

BAGHDAD — Roadside bombs killed six U.S. soldiers in two blasts Tuesday outside the capital, and a suicide attacker blew up his speeding ambulance at a Baghdad hotel housing Western diplomats and Iraqi officials this morning, killing as many as five people, witnesses said.

Sahhah Hassan, an Iraqi guard at the Shaheen Hotel, said five people were killed, including some Westerners, and nine were wounded when the ambulance broke through a barbed wire barrier, barreled down the street and exploded about 7 a.m. in front of the hotel in an upscale neighborhood.

Another guard, Haider Mohammed, said: "We shot at him but he never stopped."

The number of deaths was not established early today. A police official said he knew of only three: two Britons and an Iraqi. The U.S. military said three Iraqis had been killed.

All the casualties were believed to have been outside the hotel. A body covered with a bloody sheet lay on the sidewalk. The hotel's facade had collapsed, exposing rooms. The smoldering wreckage of a burned car had been thrown into a home across the street.

The labor minister was a hotel tenant, neighborhood residents said, but he was unhurt.

The Tuesday attacks brought to 15 the number of U.S. soldiers who have died from roadside bombings in a 10-day period -- underscoring anew the lethality of the homemade explosives that have been a major weapon of insurgent forces in Iraq.

The American death toll has continued to mount since the capture last month of Saddam Hussein, despite what U.S. officials say is an overall reduction in attacks. A total of 519 American soldiers have died since the U.S.-led invasion in March.

Meanwhile, an attack Tuesday on a civilian car south of Baghdad took the lives of two Iraqi employees of CNN. They died of gunshot wounds in what has become a death corridor for foreigners and those perceived as working for the occupation.

Late last year, seven Spanish intelligence officers were killed in the area, about five miles south of Mahmoudiya, a southern suburb of Baghdad.

Fourteen journalists have died in Iraq since the war began last year, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

The first roadside attack Tuesday targeting U.S. troops took place in Khaldiya, a tense town west of Baghdad in the Sunni Muslim heartland that has displayed stiff resistance to the U.S. occupation. The bomb killed three soldiers in a convoy, the military said, and critically injured one. Their names were not immediately released.

At least one Iraqi also was killed and several wounded, the military said. Hospital officials indicated that at least two Iraqis were killed, but there were conflicting reports as to whether it was as a result of the explosion or subsequent gunfire.

A rescue team came under small-arms fire in what appeared to be a coordinated attack, military officials said. A second bomb exploded in the area shortly after the first, the military said, but no one was injured.

Later Tuesday, the military said, a roadside bomb near Iskandariya, 25 miles south of Baghdad, killed three U.S. soldiers and injured three in a passing convoy.

The two CNN employees killed in the attack south of Baghdad were producer-interpreter Duraid Isa Mohammed, 27, and driver Yasser Khatab, 25. They were Iraqi nationals.

The two were traveling in an unarmored BMW car behind a four-wheel-drive vehicle carrying CNN foreign staffers as well as a security advisor and a second driver. The two CNN vehicles had no press markings. Most Western news agencies in Iraq refrain from identifying their vehicles to avoid attention.

A rust-colored Opel approached from behind. A single gunman with an AK-47 stood through the open sunroof and began to fire on the lead vehicle carrying the foreigners. The vehicle was hit at least five times, but managed to flee from the gunman as the CNN security advisor returned fire, according to an account by the network.

"There is no doubt in my mind that if our security advisor had not returned fire, everyone in our vehicle would have been killed," said CNN correspondent Michael Holmes, who was traveling in the first vehicle with the security advisor, producer Shirley Hung and a driver.

When the attackers encountered the security advisor's fire, they opened fire on the BMW. The car had no armed guard.

"They were forced off the highway onto a dirt road and fired on at close range; they were filled with bullets," said Othello Adnan, a friend of Mohammed, who spoke with his family Tuesday evening.

Mohammed, who had studied language at the University of Baghdad, was married and had two sons, ages 4 and 1.

In an internal statement, Jim Walton, president of the CNN news group, said: "Duraid and Yasser, and about 20 other members of the media, have sacrificed their lives in order to bring the world news from Iraq. We are indebted to them and offer our sincerest condolences to their families."

The tone in Mahmoudiya was less sympathetic. At a hospital, officials initially refused to speak to a reporter and then made it clear that Americans are viewed with suspicion, if not hostility.

"There are some people with the Americans who believe they can do whatever they want with the world, like a chess game," said Razzar Ali Kadhim, the security chief on the night shift for Mahmoudiya Hospital, where the dead were taken. "Iraqis have something some people don't have: a sense of honor.

"And it is more dangerous than any weapon of mass destruction," he added.

Before an American journalist left the hospital, Kadhim warned: "There are many Iraqis who believe you are an enemy."

Salar Jaff of The Times' Baghdad Bureau contributed to this report.

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