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Car bomb at Baghdad mosque kills 8, wounds 26

US military probes site of copter crash as violence continues

BAGHDAD -- A car bomb ripped through a crowded mosque during prayers yesterday, killing eight people and wounding 26 in the latest attack targeting Iraq's Shi'ite majority. Frantic worshipers searched through rubble for loved ones, and women wailed and beat their chests in grief.

The US military sent investigators yesterday to the grassy field north of Baghdad where a helicopter carrying 11 civilians was shot down Thursday.

A video posted on a militant website suggested that insurgents gunned down the lone survivor of the crash, and the Bulgarian company that owns the helicopter confirmed yesterday that the man seen in the footage was indeed one of the aircraft's pilots.

The violence was part of a surge of attacks that have caused heavy casualties in recent weeks, ending a relative lull since Iraqis voted in historic Jan. 30 elections. Iraqi leaders are struggling to form a Cabinet that will include members of the Sunni minority, believed to be the driving force in the insurgency.

Al-Jazeera aired part of a hostage video yesterday in which it said a militant group was threatening to kill three kidnapped Romanian journalists and their Iraqi-American translator unless Romanian troops leave Iraq within four days. Journalists Marie Jeanne Ion, Sorin Dumitru Miscoci, and Ovidiu Ohanesian were kidnapped with their translator, Mohammed Monaf, on March 28 near their Baghdad hotel.

One US soldier was killed yesterday by a roadside bomb north of Tal Afar, 95 miles east of the Syrian border, the military said. On Thursday, a US Marine died in a nonhostile incident at Camp Delta, near Karmah, 50 miles west of Baghdad, the military said. More than 1,500 members of the US military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war two years ago.

The car bomb exploded at Al-Subeih mosque, in the capital's Shi'ite-dominated New Baghdad neighborhood, said police Colonel Ahmed Aboud. Witnesses said the vehicle used in the attack had been parked outside the building since the morning.

A 10-year-old child was among the eight people killed, and the 26 wounded included two 9-year-olds, hospital officials said.

Remains were strewn at the scene among shattered glass and piles of bricks.

''This is a cowardly and savage act that aims to create conflict among Iraqis," said Abdelallah Faraj, a grocer who survived the attack.

Shi'ite mosques and funerals have become a frequent target of Sunni-led insurgents. In February, suicide bombers attacked a number of them during the Shi'ite commemoration of Ashoura, killing nearly 100 people. In recent weeks, police have pulled dozens of bodies from the Tigris River in a region south of Baghdad that has seen retaliatory kidnappings and killings by Shi'ite and Sunni groups.

North of the capital, Colonel Paul Bricker led a team of investigators who surveyed the site where the helicopter crashed Thursday, the military said.

The chartered flight between Baghdad and Tikrit was believed to be the first civilian aircraft shot down in Iraq since the US-led invasion in March 2003. A spokesman for US forces in Iraq said an American medical evacuation team arrived at the site within a half-hour of Thursday's crash and found no survivors.

The dead included six American bodyguards for US diplomats, three Bulgarian crew, and two security guards from Fiji, officials said.

Their bodies were taken to Balad Air Base, and an aircraft recovery team from the Third Infantry Division was moving the wreckage of the helicopter to Baghdad International Airport for further inspection, the military said.

Two militant groups claimed responsibility for shooting down the Russian-made Mi-8 helicopter and released video to support their claims.

A group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq posted footage on the Internet purporting to show militants capturing and shooting the lone survivor, found lying in the grass near burning wreckage and charred bodies.

Mihail Mihailov, the manager of Heli Air, the Bulgarian owner of the helicopter, identified the man in the footage as Lyubomir Kostov, one of the aircraft's two pilots.

Al-Jazeera broadcast another video from a group calling itself the Mujahedeen Army in Iraq that showed the helicopter flying about 100 feet above the ground. At one point, the camera suddenly shook, swinging down to show the ground near the cameraman's feet -- apparently as a missile hit the helicopter.

When the camera turned back toward the sky, the helicopter was in flames, arcing toward the ground and trailing a pall of black smoke.

There was no independent confirmation of the authenticity of either video.

The New York Times quoted an Iraqi official today as saying some Kurdish political leaders were trying to delay the formation of a new government in an attempt to force out Ibrahim Jaafari, the Shi'ite prime minister.

Sami al-Askari, a member of the Shi'ite alliance, said the goal was to stall until May 7, the deadline by which Jaafari must select a Cabinet or leave his post, under Iraqi interim law. A spokesman for the Kurdish alliance denied this.

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