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The Conflict in Iraq

6 Suspects Held in Copter Downing

Acting on tips from area residents, U.S. troops also seize bomb-making gear. Attacks around the country leave at least 10 dead and 20 injured.

April 24, 2005|Ashraf Khalil | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — The U.S. Army arrested six Iraqi men Saturday on suspicion of involvement in the downing of a civilian helicopter that left 11 people dead two days earlier.

Acting on tips from residents, soldiers with the 1st Armored Division raided a village near Taji, northwest of Baghdad. In addition to detaining the six suspects for questioning, the soldiers also confiscated bomb-making material.

The arrests were a rare bright spot for U.S. and Iraqi forces after more than a week of resurging rebel violence. Multiple insurgent attacks around the country Saturday killed at least 10 Iraqis and injured more than 20, and the military announced the death of an American soldier.

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

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

Eleven civilians, including six Americans, died in the attack Thursday on the Mi-8 helicopter, operated by Heli Air. Footage later circulated on websites 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.

Kent hailed the involvement of Iraqis 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 the country, a roadside bomb exploded near an Iraqi army convoy west of Baghdad near the Abu Ghraib prison and killed nine Iraqi army troops and injured 20. The surviving soldiers reportedly opened fire after the blast, killing a civilian in a passing car.

A second roadside bomb, in Al Anbar province near the town of Haswa, killed an American assigned to the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force. The name of the soldier wasn't released pending notification of family.

A car bomber attacked a U.S. patrol on Baghdad's airport road, killing one Iraqi and wounding 10, including three American soldiers. Another car bomber targeted a Shiite Muslim mosque in the southern city of Basra, injuring two young girls.

In the northern city of Mosul, a television cameraman working for 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. The two victims are not related. After being treated, Mohammed Ibrahim was escorted away and apparently detained by U.S. forces, the news agency reported.

The pair had been responding to an explosion targeting a U.S. patrol that had injured two Iraqi civilians. The circumstances of their shooting were still unclear. The U.S. military said it was investigating the incident, and AP President Tom Curley promised that the organization would "fully investigate this tragic happening so we can understand the circumstances under which it occurred."

Special correspondent Othman Ghanem in Basra contributed to this report.

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