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UN Blast An Inside Job?
News24.com
8-22-03


BAGHDAD (AP)- US investigators on Friday were questioning Iraqi employees and guards who worked at the UN headquarters - many with ties to Saddam Hussein's security service - on the growing suspicion that the deadly truck bombing of the UN. facility may have been an inside job, the top US security official in Iraq said on Friday.
 
"There are concerns about some of the people who were working there...It's all under investigation at this point," Bernard Kerik, the former New York police commissioner, said.
 
Kerik, in Iraq to rebuild the police force, said some of the Iraqi personnel at the UN compound initially refused to co-operate with authorities and were being interrogated.
 
Leaving no stone unturned
 
FBI agents and Iraqi police were questioning Iraqis who worked both inside and outside the UN building, Kerik said.
 
"We want to know who was in the building, vendors, anyone who had to make deliveries, anyone who had to be in the building for any other reason," he said.
 
The fact that the truck blew up in a small access road outside top UN envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello's office, just as a high-level official meeting was in progress, added to suspicions the blast was engineered by someone with inside knowledge.
 
"It is going to consist of interview, interrogations, forensic evidence, technical evidence," Kerik said.
 
Guards also under scrutiny
 
UN security guards also were under scrutiny. Most of them had been placed in jobs at the UN facility by the Saddam security service before the war and reported on UN staff movements at the Canal Hotel, headquarters for UN inspectors looking for weapons of mass destruction.
 
Questioning the guards had become a priority because of their ties to Saddam's intelligence apparatus, an official said on condition of anonymity. He said investigators were checking to see if any guards failed to report for duty on Tuesday.
 
Searching for remains
 
Also on Friday, US soldiers and Iraqi police were searching for human remains in the rubble of the bombed headquarters, as 86 seriously wounded UN workers waited to be airlifted out of Iraq for medical care abroad.
 
The US military announced the deaths of two US soldiers Friday. One serviceman was killed in action on Thursday in al Hilla, south of Baghdad. The other died in a fire at a shooting range. The military did not say what caused the fire.
 
"Armed Vanguards of a Second Muhammad Army"
 
A previously unknown group claimed responsibility for the unprecedented suicide attack on Tuesday against the UN. The group calling itself the "Armed Vanguards of a Second Muhammad Army" pledged "to continue fighting every foreigner (in Iraq) and to carry out similar operations" in a statement sent to the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya satellite channel.
 
There was no way to verify the authenticity of the claim. Gen. John Abizaid, the head of US Central Command, said he was aware of a group with a similar name, but did not elaborate.
 
He warned that terrorism "is emerging as the number one security threat" in Iraq.
 
al-Qaeda cells in Baghdad
 
The al-Qaeda-linked group Ansar al-Islam, based in northern Iraq since before the war, has "definitely established" cells in Baghdad and foreign fighters have been entering the country from Syria, Abizaid told a Washington news conference.
 
As the world body tried to recover its footing in Iraq after the bombing, which killed at least 23 people, the US made a new push for a UN resolution calling on nations to send troops to help American forces in Iraq.
 
But US secretary of state Colin Powell, who met with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, underlined that Washington would not surrender any control in Iraq to the UN - a step diplomats say is necessary to build a robust international force.
 
US won't give up control
 
The US military wants to broaden the coalition in part to get more soldiers on the ground to help with security, but also to make the American occupation more multinational. US troops have come under constant guerrilla attack in past months and blame Saddam loyalists.
 
Thursday's deaths brought the number of US combat deaths in Iraq to 179, 32 more than in the first Gulf War. Sixty-five US soldiers have been killed since US President George W Bush declared an end to formal combat on May 1 this year.
 
Six US soldiers were wounded on Friday when their 5-ton truck ran over a roadside bomb on the outskirts of Baiji, about 210km north of Baghdad, 4th Infantry Division spokesperson Major Josslyn Aberle said.
 
The victims were evacuated in a helicopter to an Army field hospital north of Tikrit, where one was in critical condition awaiting surgery, she said. The others were in stable condition, she added.
 
Fighting in Iraq continues
 
US troops shot and killed one Iraqi who opened fire with an AK-47 rifle at a patrol early n Friday, she said. It was unclear where the shooting happened and there were no US casualties.
 
The UN, despite the bombing, will not increase the number of US soldiers standing guard outside its facilities from the dozen or so it had before the attack, said Ramiro Lopes da Silva, Iraq coordinator for UN humanitarian programmes.
 
"It's not that we have anything against the coalition forces, but you do realize the presence of coalition forces does intimidate some of the people we need to speak to and work with," he told reporters at the blast site.
 
UN a soft target
 
"We will always remain a soft target," he said. "We are conscious of that, but that is the way we operate. We are an open organisation."
 
He said the UN was temporally moving about 100 support and administrative staff - out of a total work force of 300 - to Jordan and Cyprus.
 
Two UN employees were still unaccounted for and an unknown number of people - visitors to the building - were still buried in the rubble, he said. The UN's official death toll stood at 20, including the UN's chief envoy to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello. However, independent checks by The Associated Press at area hospitals showed at least 23 died in the blast.
 
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