Blasts Inside Green Zone Kill at Least 5

By Edmund Sanders and Daryl Strickland

Los Angeles Times

October 14, 2004

BAGHDAD — Two bombs exploded in rapid succession inside the heavily fortified Green Zone today, killing five people, including three Americans, and wounding 20 others, the U.S. military said.

The brazen bombings in the four-square-mile area that houses the American and British embassies and Iraqi government was believed to have been "hand-carried" into the zone. No debris was found to link the blast to a car bomb or mortar attack, said Sharon Walker, a military spokeswoman in Baghdad.

Mortar shells rain down in that area almost daily. A bomb was defused last week in the barricaded zone inside a popular café. But this attack was believed to be the first time insurgents have carried out a bombing in the fortress-like zone, Walker said.

Investigators said their initial inquiry proved unclear in determining whether the bombing that took place at an outdoor bazaar and a restaurant was a suicide attack. "We can't say definitively," said Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, a military spokesman in Baghdad.

The terrorist group Jamaat al Tawhid wal Jihad, led by Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab Zarqawi, claimed responsibility for the explosions, and previously has said they were behind a wave of attacks. In a statement, the group described those involved in the attacks as martyrs, according to the Associated Press.

"By the grace of God, two lions of the 'Martyrdom Brigade' affiliated with the military wing of Tawhid and Jihad were successful in entering the base of the American Embassy inside the Green Zone in the capital Baghdad," the statement said.

Earlier today, Mohammed Nawaf Obeidi was at the Green Zone restaurant and coffee shop, where the second explosion in the Baghdad district occurred today. He ordered tea and asked to talk with his cousin, who Obeidi said owns the restaurant. Startled by the first explosion he heard at the bazaar, he expected the worst.

"I knew something else was going to happen," Obeidi said, with a bandaged hand that was cut from flying glass. "People were screaming. I was on the floor," he said. "People were stampeding, trying to get out."

The blast shattered the restaurant, where Obeidi stood. The popular hangout, made primarily of a metal frame tent draped in orange canvas, was converted from an old gas station built out of stone.

Now, the awning had collapsed and the canvas was shredded. The bomb dug a crater inside the restaurant measuring two feet wide and two feet deep. A trail of terror extended about 50 feet from the restaurant, amid twisted metal and blood and flesh.

The carnage could have been worse, but crowds have thinned in recent days, the military said. The U.S. Embassy began warning people to avoid the area after a four-wheel-drive vehicle exploded outside a gate to the Green Zone earlier this month. The vehicle, reportedly packed with artillery shells, detonated near a recruiting center for the Iraqi security services.

The victims' names have not been released, but at least three of the wounded were U.S. citizens.

In a separate attack today, a U.S. soldier died and two more were wounded from an explosive planted in the road in eastern Baghdad. In all, at least 1,082 military deaths have been recorded since President Bush declared major combat over on May 1, 2003, according to the Defense Department.

Also, U.S. troops launched another round of raids today in Ramadi that left eight people dead and 17 wounded, the Associated Press said.

Bracing for an upsurge in violence, U.S. troops and the interim Iraqi government have boosted efforts to establish control over insurgent strongholds before the sacred Muslim month of Ramadan, which begins this week. The month was marred last year by a series of attacks.

In today's bombings, the first occurred about 12:50 p.m., followed about five minutes later by another blast. Abdul Razak Mohammed, a waiter who was in the stone building and not injured in the attack, said he saw two people arrive, each carrying black bags over their shoulders and sitting at a table near the corner. It was the first time Mohammed recalled seeing the men.

One approached the cashier, ordered tea and was asked by an employee if they were Iraqis. Mohammed, whose answers were made through a translator, recalled the man saying, "No, we're Jordanians."

After they talked for a few minutes, one left and another restaurant worker recalled him hailing a taxicab. Five minutes later, he heard the first bombing at the bazaar. The other man stayed behind, and shortly, the restaurant was blown up.

Mohammed was shaken by the near-death experience. "I'm looking for a job," he said. "I will change my work."

Sanders reported from Baghdad, Strickland from Los Angeles.