Children massacred as bombs rip through Basra21/04/2004 - 11:27:04
Iraqi insurgents targeted the British run city of Basra today killing at least 55 people, including ten children on their way to schools, in a series of bomb blasts.
The explosions ripped through three police stations and a police academy in the southern city.
At least 238 people were wounded in the attacks, the bloodiest in the usually peaceable mainly Shiite city since the occupation began a year ago.
Iraqis pulled charred and torn bodies from mangled vehicles in front of the Saudia police station by Basra’s crowded main street market.
Two vans carrying children were destroyed, one carrying youngsters on their way to nursery school, the other carrying middle-school girls.
Dead children, burned beyond recognition, were taken to hospital morgues.
There was no immediate word who was behind the attack.
A radical Shiite militia was active in Basra during the early days of its uprising across the south this month, but its gunmen targeted coalition troops and the fighting died down in Basra after only a few days.
The explosions tore into three police stations in Basra and the academy in the suburb of Zubair almost simultaneously after 7am (4am Irish time), as many residents were headed to markets, jobs or school.
An hour later, another blast targeted the same police academy.
Forty-five people were killed in the station blasts and 10 were killed in the police academy explosions, officials and witnesses said.
Around 10 children were among the dead, said Iraqi Police Colonel Kadhem al-Muhammedawi.
British military spokesman Squadron Leader Jonathan Arnold said the blasts were believed to have been caused by car bombs. However, al-Muhammedawi said rockets may have been fired at the station.
A large crater, six feet wide and six feet deep, was blown in the pavement outside the Saudia station, the façade of which was heavily damaged.
The injured included two British soldiers at the police academy, said Major Hisham al-Halawi, spokesman for British forces in Basra.
British troops who tried to come to the Saudia station to help were met by angry Iraqis, blaming them for failing to keep security in the city.
“We don’t know yet who committed these bombings,” al-Halawi said.
US officials have accused foreign Islamic militants in deadly suicide bombings in February against Shiite holy sites in Najaf and Baghdad aimed at sparking a Shiite-Sunni civil war in Iraq.
Meanwhile, an agreement aimed at bringing peace to the central city of Fallujah met troubles only a day after its implementation.
A heavy battle broke out in the morning on the city’s north side, where up to 40 insurgents attacked US marine positions, commanders said. Nine insurgents were killed, and three marines were wounded.
And as of noon, no guerrillas had turned in any heavy weapons, the most crucial tenet of the agreement in US eyes, said Lieutenant Colonel Brennan Byrne. The US military has warned it may resume its assault on Fallujah if the agreement falls through.
But for now, the Marines were responding by halting a part of the agreement of great concern to the Fallujans, the return of families that fled during the fighting since April 5, Byrne said.
The battle on Fallujah’s north side this morning lasted for four hours after a group of up to 40 insurgents attacked marine positions in the morning.
Explosions were heard coming from the scene of the fighting, and Cobra helicopter gunships were blasting with Gatling guns from the air. Witnesses reported tanks moving into the Jolan neighbourhood where Marines reported the attack was launched.
During the fighting, a few mosques blared messages calling gunmen to battle. “These people killed our children and made our women homeless and raped them. Fight them to the death, and there is no doubt you will go to heaven,” went one message according to a marine translator.
Then the city returned to the calm it has seen over the past few days .
Marines Captain Matt Watt said he doubted the battle would scuttle the agreement, suggesting it was an isolated attack.
“I think it's one last surge by the Mujahedeen and criminal type elements in the city to get one last attack in before the political situation snuffs them out,” Watt said. “They see that the end is near and they are making one last push.”
As the death toll rose to at least 68, Basra mayor Wael Abdul-Hafeez blamed Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terror network for the atrocity.
“All four attacks seem to have been carried out by suicide bombers,” said a British Defence Ministry spokeswoman in Basra.
Hafeez said 68 people, not including the bombers, had been killed and police had recovered the remains of one bearded bomber.
“I accuse al-Qaida,” he said. “We have arrested a person disguised in a police uniform. We are questioning him.”
Wounded Iraqi, Amin Dinar, said he had heard a huge explosion as he stood at the door of his house.
“I saw a minibus full of children on fire. Fifteen of the 18 passengers were killed and three badly wounded,” he said from his hospital bed.
British officials said the Zubair academy blast wounded four British soldiers, two of them seriously.
Sixteen of the dead were children and nine policemen, said Basra governor Wael Abdul-Latif, who is also a member of the Iraqi Governing Council.
Iraqi Interior Minister Samir Shaker Mahmoud al-Sumeidi blamed terrorists.
He said: “Today, we all have lost children who are part of Iraq’s future which the terrorists want to destroy.
“The Iraqi government condemns this criminal act and it confirms its resolution on defeating this cancer which is called resistance.”
He said the Basra attack resembled suicide bombings earlier this year against Shiites and Kurds that killed hundreds and were blamed on foreign Islamic militants.
“The information we have indicate that the attacks were carried out with car bombs,” al-Sumeidi said. “As for who is behind Basra attacks, it is clear that that the fingerprints of the parties that were behind the massacres in Iraq as in Irbil and Karbala can be seen in today’s attacks.”
US officials have said they believe al-Qaida linked Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was behind March 2 suicide bombings at Shiite shrines in Karbala and in Baghdad that killed at least 181.
Ansar al-Islam, an extremist group that al-Zarqawi has been linked with, is suspected in February bombings in the northern city of Irbil that left 109 dead.
Al-Zarqawi has outlined a plot to attack Shiite religious sites to foment civil war between Iraq’s Shiite Muslim majority and Sunni minority, say US officials pointing to a letter from al-Zarqawi to al-Qaida leaders that the military says it intercepted earlier this year.
Basra Police Commander Mohammed Kadhim al-Ali said the cars were packed with missiles and TNT.
The morgue at Basra’s Teaching Hospital was full and bodies were put in the hallway outside.
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