- The Washington Times - Monday, April 11, 2005

BAGHDAD — A U.S. contractor was kidnapped yesterday in the Baghdad area, the latest in a string of abductions that has forced many foreigners to work here un der armed guard.

A pickup truck also exploded near a U.S. convoy as it patrolled a crowded market in the troubled city of Samarra, killing at least three persons and injuring more than 20 others.

Three suicide bombers also hit a Marine outpost in western Iraq, wounding three Marines and three civilians in an attack claimed by one of Iraq’s most feared terror groups.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman said the American contractor, who was working on a reconstruction project, had been abducted at about noon. He refused to release an identity or other details, but said the contractor’s family had been informed.

Officials in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, said a pickup truck exploded in a crowded market shortly before the 8 p.m. curfew for cars. At least three persons died and more than 20 were injured, mostly women and children, hospital official Abdul Nasir Hamid said.

Witnesses said the blast occurred near American soldiers who were patrolling the market. The U.S. military did not have information on the incident in the Sunni Triangle, a stronghold of the insurgency.

Early yesterday, suicide bombers tried to crash two cars and a firetruck into Camp Gannon in the western desert, but “the drivers of the vehicles were stopped short of the camp by forces manning the checkpoints,” the U.S. military said.

The vehicles exploded, wounding three Marines and three civilians and causing slight damage to the concrete barriers and a nearby mosque, U.S. officials said.

Insurgents also fired at the camp, which is in the town of Qaim near the Syrian border, and a U.S. attack helicopter destroyed a car carrying a gunman, officials said. It was not clear how many insurgents and suicide bombers were killed in the assault.

The attack came nine days after dozens of heavily armed insurgents tried unsuccessfully to break into Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad. That battle wounded more than 40 U.S. soldiers and a dozen prisoners at the facility that is synonymous with the U.S. military’s prison-abuse scandal.

Al Qaeda in Iraq, which previously said 10 of its fighters were killed attacking Abu Ghraib, also claimed to have carried out yesterday’s suicide bomb assault in Qaim.

In Baghdad, about 500 members of Iraq’s police and army swept through buildings in the central Rashid neighborhood along with about 200 American soldiers, Lt. Col. Clifford Kent of the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division said. He said 65 suspected militants were detained.

Early this morning, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld made a surprise visit to Baghdad — for the second time in three months.

He was to meet later in the day with President Jalal Talabani, the Kurdish former rebel leader, and Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the Shi’ite Muslim who was designated prime minister last week.

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