- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 14, 2005

From combined dispatches

BAGHDAD — Massive mourning tents were raised yesterday on a street still stained with the blood of 18 Iraqi children who died Wednesday in an attack so appalling that even Iraq’s most notorious terror group denounced it.

Human remains were still visible on the street as mourning relatives — some despondent, others in tears — seemed deaf to words of comfort their friends offered.

“What did these children do, other than scamper to get a ball or a bar of chocolate?” asked 22-year-old taxi driver Firas Hadi, whose 10-year-old brother, Hamza, was nearly split in half by a suicide car bomb the previous day.

“Is that a crime that deserves death?” he asked, before bursting into tears.

The attack, which came as U.S. soldiers handed candy and toys to a crowd of children, killed at least 27 persons and provoked outrage from Iraqis of all political persuasions.

Al Qaeda in Iraq, the terror group led by Abu Musab Zarqawi that has taken responsibility for a wave of grisly beheadings and other horrors, quickly dissociated itself from the atrocity.

“We in al Qaeda in Iraq announce that we have no link whatsoever to the operation in New Baghdad, which took place on Wednesday,” it said on the Internet.

Zarqawi, “who supervises personally all operations from planning to execution, is very keen on making sure that ordinary people are not targeted,” it added without accounting for the thousands of Iraqis who have died in the terrorists’ attacks.

The statement suggests that the group is aware of the backlash against the Sunni-led insurgency that the killing of so many children could generate — even among Iraqis who oppose the presence of U.S.-led forces.

“Such action has nothing to do with religion,” said Inaam Hassan, 38, of the attack. “This tarnishes the image of the true resistance. I demand that the terrorists be executed in public to avenge the mothers who have lost their children.”

Also yesterday, Iraqi and U.S. forces captured a suicide bomber before he could detonate his explosive belt and announced that a key suspect in the kidnap-slaying of Egypt’s top envoy to Iraq had been arrested in what was hailed as a blow to the terror network.

The thwarted suicide attack — just 150 feet from the green zone, the site of the U.S. Embassy and major Iraqi government offices — was intended to be part of coordinated assaults by a suicide car bomber and two pedestrians strapped with explosives.

The attackers apparently planned to detonate the car bomb first. Then the two pedestrians would blow themselves up in the midst of troops, police and rescue workers rushing to the scene, U.S. officials said.

The car bomb exploded successfully. But one pedestrian bomber was killed after an Iraqi policeman shot him, setting off his explosive vest, a U.S. statement said.

The second pedestrian bomber was wounded by shrapnel from the blast before he could detonate his vest and was in critical condition at a U.S. military hospital in the green zone, the statement said.

Five policemen and four civilians were wounded by the blasts and gunfire, officials at Yarmouk Hospital said.

Would-be bombers are rarely captured in Iraq. A 19-year-old Saudi was taken into custody after he somehow survived the explosion of his fuel tanker in December, a blast that killed nine persons. A Yemeni was arrested in 2003 when his car bomb failed to detonate at a Baghdad police station.

There was no word on the identity of the failed bomber, but his arrest could yield valuable intelligence on the shadowy network of Islamic extremists — some of them thought to be foreigners linked to al Qaeda.

In another setback to terrorists, about 30 suspected al Qaeda members were arrested in the past week, including a key suspect in this month’s killing of Egyptian envoy Ihab al-Sherif and attacks on senior diplomats from Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, the U.S. command said.

Khamis Abdul-Fahdawi, known as Abu Seba, was captured Saturday after operations in the Ramadi area west of Baghdad, the military said. He is a suspect in the “attacks against diplomats of Bahrain, Pakistan and the recent murder of Egyptian envoy” al-Sherif, the U.S. statement said.

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