- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 24, 2006

BAGHDAD — Sunni terrorists opened the Muslim holy month of Ramadan yesterday with a bomb attack in a Shi’ite neighborhood that killed at least 37 women and children who were purchasing kerosene to cook celebratory evening meals to break each daylong fast.

The Sunni extremist group Jamaat Jund al-Sahaba — Soldiers of the Prophet’s Companions — claimed responsibility for the bomb attack in Sadr City, a sprawling slum that is home to more than 2 million people and a stronghold of radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Dhiyaa Ali, a 24-year-old college student, said he heard the explosion from his nearby home and ran to the street to help people. He said bodies and blood were everywhere.

“I went into the flames just to get anyone left out of the fire,” he told the Associated Press. “I saw a mother holding her child, both of them burned and dead.”

The Sunni group said it carried out the bombing to avenge a Friday attack by a suspected Shi’ite death squad on Sunni Arab homes and mosques that killed four persons in a mixed Baghdad neighborhood.

The Sadr City bombing occurred on the first day of Ramadan for Sunni Arabs. Shi’ites were expected to declare today the first day of the holy month, a tangible sign of the differences separating the two Islamic sects.

In Kut, a city 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, eight victims of sectarian death squads were turned in at the morgue. Their bodies had been dumped in the Tigris River.

U.S. officials had warned of the danger of Iraq’s already severe sectarian violence could escalate during Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk.

Meanwhile, a roadside bomb killed a U.S. soldier in northern Baghdad, the U.S. command said without releasing any details.

A Danish soldier also was reported killed, along with eight wounded, in a roadside bombing in southern Iraq. He was the fourth Danish soldier to die in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion ousted Saddam Hussein’s regime more than three years ago.

Al Qaeda in Iraq, meanwhile, put a previously released video on the Internet showing what it said was the group’s new leader killing a Turkish hostage two years ago. The statement identifying the masked killer as Abu Ayyub al-Masri couldn’t be confirmed.

The tape’s release was seen as a possible signal by al-Masri, who was named the group’s leader after a U.S. air raid killed Abu Musab Zarqawi in June and who earlier this month called on Sunnis to step up attacks on American troops.

Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, spokesman for the U.S.-led military coalition, also said a spike in attacks by al Qaeda in Iraq could be coming after the threat issued Sept. 7 by al-Masri.

The video posted on a Web site often used by Islamic extremists was the first purported appearance of al-Masri since he was announced as the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq this summer.

In a statement accompanying the video, the group said the masked man shown shooting a blindfolded Turkish hostage three times in the head was al-Masri.

In a separate development, Iraq’s armed forces said they struck a blow against groups affiliated with al Qaeda in Iraq, announcing the arrest of a senior leader of Ansar al-Sunnah, a radical Sunni group responsible for attacks on U.S. forces, kidnappings and beheadings.

Muntasir Hamoud Ileiwi al-Jubouri and two aides were captured late Friday near Muqdadiyah, 56 miles northeast of Baghdad, Brig. Qassim al-Mussawi, spokesman for the General Command of the Armed Forces, told the Associated Press.

The Sunni militant group has claimed responsibility for numerous suicide attacks as well as the August 2004 execution of 12 Nepalese hostages and a December 2004 bombing that killed 22 persons at a U.S. military mess hall in the northern city of Mosul.

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