BAGHDAD (AP) â€” Suicide bombers struck twice near the entrance to the fortified Green Zone on Thursday, a day after a devastating attack on Iraqi children that provoked outrage and even brought a denial of responsibility from Al Qaeda in Iraq.
Iraqi and US forces announced some rare successes in capturing one suicide bomber before he could detonate his explosive belt and the arrest of a key suspect in the kidnap-slaying of Egypt’s top envoy.
The coordinated attacks by a suicide car bomber and two men strapped with explosives occurred just seconds apart near a police station about 50 metres from the Green Zone, where the US embassy and major Iraqi government offices are located.
US officials said it appeared the attackers planned to detonate the car bomb first â€” then the two pedestrians would blow themselves up in the middle of troops, police and rescue workers rushing to the scene.
But an Iraqi policeman shot one of the bombers, setting off his explosive vest, a US statement said. His colleague was wounded by shrapnel from the blast before he could detonate his own vest, the statement said.
The surviving attacker was in critical condition at a US military hospital in the Green Zone, according to the US military. Five policemen and four civilians were also injured by the blasts and gunfire, officials at Yarmouk Hospital said.
An Internet statement in the name of Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attacks, but the authenticity could not be confirmed.
Would-be bombers are rarely captured before they can carry out their deadly attacks. A 19-year-old Saudi miraculously survived the Christmas Day blast of his fuel tanker which killed nine people. A Yemeni was arrested in 2003 when his car bomb failed to detonate at a Baghdad police station.
There was no word on the failed bomber’s identity, but his arrest could yield valuable intelligence on the shadowy network of Islamic extremists â€” many of them believed to be foreigners linked to Al Qaeda.
In another blow to the network, about 30 suspected Al Qaeda members were arrested in the past week, including a key suspect in this month’s kidnap-slaying of Egyptian envoy Ihab Sherif and attacks on senior diplomats from Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, the US command said.
Khamis Abdul-Fahdawi, known as Abu Seba, was captured Saturday following operations in the Ramadi area west of Baghdad, the military said. Abu Seba was suspected in the “attacks against diplomats of Bahrain, Pakistan and the recent murder of Egyptian envoy Sherif, according to the US statement.
Another key suspect, Abdullah Ibrahim Shadad, or Abu Abdul-Aziz, was arrested during a raid Sunday in Baghdad, the US statement said. It identified Abu Abdul-Aziz as the operations officer for Al Qaeda in Iraq, led by Abu Mussab Zarqawi. Abu Abdul-Aziz was cooperating with coalition forces, according to the US command.
In an Internet statement Thursday, Al Qaeda in Iraq acknowledged that Abu Abdul-Aziz had been captured but played down his importance to the group.
Al Qaeda also denied any role in the Wednesday suicide car-bombing that killed 27 people â€” including 18 children and an American soldier â€” in eastern Baghdad. The suicide bomber detonated his SUV as US troops were distributing candy and toys in the mostly Shiite New Baghdad area.
“We, the Al Qaeda organisation in Iraq, announce that we are not in the least responsible for the New Baghdad operation that took place Wednesday,” said the statement posted and signed by Abu Maysara Iraqi, the Al Qaeda spokesman.
“Our sheikh, Abu Mussab Zarqawi … is very keen not to attack the rank and file and he himself is the one who directly supervises, plans and direct all the operations,” the statement said.
The statement â€” whose authenticity could not be verified â€” suggests the militant group is aware of the backlash that the death of so many children could generate â€” even among Iraqis who oppose the presence of US-led forces “such action has nothing to do with religion,” housewife Inaam Hassan, 38, said of slaughter. “This tarnishes the image of the true resistance. I demand that the terrorists be executed in public to avenge the mothers who have lost their children.” Salam Rubaiei, 33, said he regretted the deaths of so many children but blamed their parents for allowing them to approach American soldiers.
“We know how reckless these forces are and how they can randomly open fire when attacked,” Rubaie said. “I want to know why these (American) forces were present in a residential area.” Elsewhere, police said gunmen killed five Iraqi employees of an American base in Baqouba, 55 kilometres northeast of Baghdad, as they were driving outside the base. At least nine policemen also were killed in separate attacks nationwide.
However, figures obtained Thursday by the Associated Press from separate Iraqi government ministries show that violent deaths among Iraqi civilians far exceeded those of soldiers or police during the first six months of this year.
Between January 1 and June 30, 1,594 civilians were killed, according to the ministry of health. By contrast, 895 security forces â€” 275 Iraqi soldiers and 620 police â€” were killed in bombings, assassinations or armed clashes with insurgents, according to figures from the interior and defence ministries.
The number of insurgents killed during that six-month period was 781, the government said.
According to an AP count, more than 1,700 people have been killed in violence since April 28, when Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari announced his Shiite-led government in a country trying to crush an insurgency whose foundation is made up of Sunnis.