- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2003

KUWAIT CITY, March 28 (UPI) — A large explosion rocked downtown Kuwait City at 2 a.m. local time Saturday and some Kuwaitis believe the cruise missile that hit near a movie theater was an American Tomahawk that went astray, The New York Times reported.

The usual radar-triggered air raid alarms did not sound, suggesting the missile was one that came in low, below radar coverage.

No deaths or injuries were reported. TV cameras showed the area where the blast apparently occurred — at a downtown shopping mall — was littered with mall debris. There were no serious injuries since the movie house had emptied earlier.

A Pentagon spokesman told United Press International that there was no information yet available about the missile strike.

The Times said some Kuwaiti officials read some English words on pieces of the missile wreckage, near a sea wall it apparently hit when coming in low over water. The missile strike, they said, was a mistake.

The Kuwaiti based Patriot defense system was not triggered.

Kuwait International Airport continued to operate as usual, and commercial jets were heard taking off — although the airport is routinely closed during a missile alert.

Kuwaiti officials said it was a low trajectory missile, fired from the direction of Basra, Iraq, across the Persian Gulf.

The explosion took place in the empty mall, and was the first missile to hit the city in more than a week of war. Over a dozen missiles have been fired against Kuwait from Iraq since U.S.-led military operations began in the early hours of March 20. All have either been knocked down by Patriot anti-missile batteries, or fallen harmlessly in the desert or in the waters of the Persian Gulf.

The missile that got as far as a shopping mall immediately raised fears that Iraq had successfully reached Kuwait with a 13th missile.

As well as the Scuds that Iraq claims to have destroyed under U.N. disarmament rules, Iraq has two other locally made missiles that can reach Kuwait. The first is the al-Samoud, whose range U.N. inspectors deemed last month to exceed the 150-kilometer (93-mile) limit imposed on Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War.

They ordered those missiles destroyed, which Iraq was in the process of doing when war broke out. The second is the shorter-range al-Fatah missile, with a 130-kilometer (80-mile) range.

Until the Saturday explosion, there had been no air raid warnings and no missiles for 36 hours. U.S. military spokesmen said the threat of missile attack would inevitably recede as coalition forces moved farther north into Iraq, pushing Iraqi forces back out of firing range.

The explosion in Kuwait came as the coalition air forces launched another series of heavy bombing raids against Baghdad. Iraqi authorities claimed some 50 more civilians had died in what they called "another war crime" attack on a residential district.

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