- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 30, 2004

BAGHDAD — Insurgents fired at least 10 mortar rounds at a U.S. base on the outskirts of Baghdad International Airport yesterday, wounding 11 soldiers, two of them seriously, and starting a fire that burned for more than an hour.

A car bomb exploded outside a police headquarters in Samawah, 150 miles south of the capital, injuring two persons.

Guerrillas struck the logistics base on the edge of Baghdad’s airport at about 8:15 a.m., said Lt. Col. Richard Rael, their commander. The base is operated by the New Mexico Army National Guard’s 515 Corps Support Battalion.

“We’re OK,” Col. Rael said. “We’ll get back to business as usual.”

A pall of black smoke hung over the airport for an hour after one of the 82 mm mortar rounds struck a petroleum products yard. There were no injuries from the fire.

The base has been subject to almost daily mortar attacks, but this was the first time the attacks caused significant injuries and structural damage.

Early today, the U.S. military launched another air strike against a purported hide-out of terrorist mastermind Abu Musab Zarqawi in Fallujah. It was the fourth attack in a month against insurgency targets in the city.

The Iraqi insurgents’ raid and a car bombing in Samawah came as added evidence that insurgents have no plans of letting up attacks — even after U.S. coalition authorities handed over sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government Monday.

Meanwhile, the United States was looking for Marine Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun. On Tuesday, his status was changed from “missing” to “captured.”

An insurgent group claims it has kidnapped Cpl. Hassoun and has threatened to behead him unless Iraqi prisoners are released. Cpl. Hassoun was shown blindfolded with a sword brandished over his head in a video aired on Al Jazeera television.

Cpl. Hassoun, of Lebanese descent, was last seen about a week before the videotape was broadcast Sunday, the military said.

“The circumstances surrounding the Marine’s absence initially indicated that he was missing,” the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force said. “However, in light of what we have observed on the terrorists’ video, we have classified him as captured.”

The New York Times, citing a Marine officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity, reported yesterday that Cpl. Hassoun had been traumatized after seeing one of his sergeants killed by a mortar, and was trying to make his way back to Lebanon. The officer told the paper that Cpl. Hassoun sought the help of Iraqis on the base, was betrayed by them, and was handed over to the extremists.

Cpl. Hassoun’s eldest brother, Mohammad, who lives in a Salt Lake City suburb, denied the report.

“To me, it has no foundation. It’s all wrong,” Mr. Hassoun said Tuesday night.

In Baghdad, a senior U.S. military official said Cpl. Hassoun failed to report for duty on June 20.

“It is highly unlikely that he was taken,” the official said on condition of anonymity. “We are investigating all possible circumstances that could have led to his failure to report to duty.”

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