- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 24, 2004

BAGHDAD — U.S. troops killed a lieutenant of suspected al Qaeda militant Abu Musaab Zarqawi, the military said yesterday, and Polish soldiers arrested nine suspects, including some believed involved in suicide bombings that killed 63 persons.

American troops distributing leaflets knocked on the door of a house in a western town Thursday, and the suspected Zarqawi associate, Abu Muhammad Hamza, opened fire from inside, the military said. The soldiers returned fire, killing Hamza, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said.

Three other men who tried to run from the scene were captured by Iraqi police and troops from the 1st Battalion, 34th Armor Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division, the military said.

In the house in Habbaniyah, soldiers found bomb-making materials and explosives — including a suicide bomber’s vest rigged with a grenade and ball bearings — pro-Saddam Hussein literature and pictures of Zarqawi, Gen. Kimmitt said.

U.S. officials have offered a $10 million reward for Zarqawi, a Jordanian, saying he is trying to build a network of foreign militants in Iraq to work on al Qaeda’s behalf. Hamza had a Jordanian passport; officials were trying to confirm his nationality.

American officials have not determined who is behind the string of suicide attacks that have killed more than 300 people — mainly Iraqis — this year. Some officials have suggested Zarqawi is organizing the campaign, but others have said Saddam loyalists are responsible.

“We believe [Zarqawi] has some associates around him and is reaching out to other disaffected organizations,” Gen. Kimmitt said. “We don’t believe he came into the country with a huge infrastructure, but he is trying to develop an infrastructure here.”

Yesterday, Polish troops arrested nine suspected militants in the Karbala region of southern Iraq, according to PAP, the Polish news agency.

“Six among the detainees, currently questioned by the coalition troops, are on lists of [people] suspected of direct terrorist attacks. This may be the people who took part in the attacks in Hillah and Iskandariyah,” Gen. Mieczyslaw Bieniek told reporters at the Polish camp near Hillah.

On Feb. 10, a car bomb went off outside a police station in Iskandariyah, south of Baghdad, killing 53 persons. The attack in Hillah came eight days later, targeting a Polish base and killing 10 Iraqis.

In Fallujah yesterday, gunmen in a vehicle fired on an Iraqi police patrol, wounding one policeman. Last week, dozens of insurgents overwhelmed a police station in the turbulent city — a center of guerrilla violence — in a battle that killed 25 persons, mostly policemen.

An Iraqi policeman who was wounded in a suicide car bombing outside a police station in the northern city of Kirkuk died yesterday, raising the death toll to nine in Monday’s blast, a police spokesman said.

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