Green Zone attacks meet resistance
Suicide bomber shot by Iraqi police is held; 2 other arrests touted
BAGHDAD -- Suicide bombers struck near the heavily fortified Green Zone yesterday, 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: capturing one suicide bomber before he could detonate his explosive belt, and arresting a key suspect in the kidnap-slaying of Egypt's top envoy to Iraq.
Yesterday's coordinated attacks by a suicide car bomber and two men strapped with explosives occurred near a police station 150 feet from the Green Zone, site of the US Embassy and major Iraqi government offices. Five policemen and four civilians were injured, officials said.
US officials said it appeared the attackers had planned to detonate the car bomb first -- 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 cohort 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, the military said.
Some of the victims wounded in the suicide attack may have been hit by the gunfire, according to officials at Yarmouk Hospital.
An Internet statement in the name of Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for yesterday's attacks, but the authenticity could not be confirmed.
Would-be bombers are rarely captured in Iraq. A 19-year-old Saudi was taken into custody after he somehow survived the explosion of his fuel tanker in December. A Yemeni was arrested in 2003 when his car bomb failed to detonate at a Baghdad police station.
There was no word on the identity of the failed bomber, but his arrest could yield valuable intelligence on the shadowy network of Islamic extremists -- many of them believed to be foreigners linked to Al Qaeda.
In another blow to the terror network, about 30 suspected Al Qaeda members were arrested in the past week, including a key suspect in this month's killing of Egyptian envoy Ihab al-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. He is a suspect in the ''attacks against diplomats of Bahrain, Pakistan, and the recent murder of Egyptian envoy" Sherif, the US statement said.
Another top suspect, Abdullah Ibrahim al-Shadad, or Abu Abdul-Aziz, was arrested during a raid Sunday in Baghdad, the statement said. It identified him as the operations officer for Al Qaeda in Iraq, led by Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Abdul-Aziz was cooperating with coalition forces, according to the US command.
In an Internet statement yesterday, Al Qaeda in Iraq acknowledged that Abdul-Aziz had been apprehended but played down his importance.
The statement also denied that Al Qaeda had any role in the suicide car bombing Wednesday that killed 27 people -- including 18 children and teenagers and an American soldier -- in Baghdad. The bomber detonated his SUV as US troops were distributing candy and toys in the mostly Shi'ite Muslim New Baghdad area.
''We, the Al Qaeda organization 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 al-Iraqi, the Al Qaeda spokesman.
''Our sheik, Abu Musab al-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, which could not be verified as authentic, suggests the militant group is aware of the backlash against the Sunni-led insurgency that the killings of so many children could generate, even among Iraqis who oppose the presence of US-led forces.
Salam al-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," Rubaiei 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 Baqubah, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, as they were driving outside the base. At least nine other policemen also were killed in separate attacks nationwide.