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17 Dead as Bombs Hit Baghdad Hotel Housing Foreign Journalists


The Associated Press
Monday 24 October 2005

Baghdad, Iraq - Three enormous bombs, including a cement-mixing truck packed with explosives, blew up near an Iraqi police post outside the Palestine Hotel - home to many foreign journalists in Iraq. Iraqi officials said 17 people were killed.

A second bomb exploded inside a car not far from the police position on the northeast side of Firdous Square and more than 100 yards east of the hotel grounds. Both were believed to be suicide attacks. Security officials said a third bomb struck the area around the same time.

It did not appear that anybody was killed inside the hotel, which has been the target of previous insurgent attacks. Three of the wounded were in the hotel but were not hurt seriously. Three others were at a U.S. military checkpoint at the northwest corner of the hotel compound.

Associated Press Television News pictures showed the cement mixer exploding in a huge ball of flame and a cloud of smoke billowing into the central Baghdad sky.

The exploding cement truck blew a hole in a 12-foot concrete wall that separates the hotel from the square where an enormous statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled as U.S. troops captured the Iraqi capital on April 9, 2003.

U.S. defense officials in Baghdad and at the Pentagon were scrambling to gather information about the attack. Capt. Patricia Brewer, a military spokeswoman in Baghdad, said they could hear the blasts from their headquarters. A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Barry Venable, said the U.S. military sent in a quick reaction force to the site to assist the police.

Iraqi security officials said the explosions occurred two minutes apart, not long before Muslims marking the Islamic holy month of Ramadan were preparing to break their day-long fast. Shortly before the explosion a truck was seen coming under fire nearby, according to APTN.

Inside the hotel, light fixtures were blown out, pictures were blasted off the walls and windows were shattered.

An AP photographer at a checkpoint at the northwest corner of the hotel said at least three fellow photographers were injured and taken away by ambulance. Three TV personnel inside the hotel also sustained minor injuries.

Assistant Interior Minister Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamal said 17 people were killed, including Iraqi police and civilians.

Earlier, police Capt. Abdul Mohammed Ghani said at least seven people were wounded outside the hotel. The Associated Press counted six wounded inside the hotel, which was last hit in an insurgent rocket attack on Oct. 7, 2004.

The attacks caused heavy damage to the south side of the 19-story hotel, forcing journalists, including those from AP, Fox News and the U.S. government-funded Alhurra TV station to take refuge in the corridor. Fox and Alhurra said their staff members were safe.

After the bombing, Iraqi forces opened up with heavy automatic weapons fire, apparently firing at random. There was no sign of a further assault on the hotel.

The bombers did not penetrate the concrete blast walls around the Palestine Hotel, which was last hit by an insurgent rocket attack on Oct. 7, 2004.

U.S. soldiers maintain a presence inside the five-acre hotel compound, which also includes the Sheraton Hotel.

Maj. Abbas Mohammed Suleiman said earlier that the hotel compound was hit by rockets and car bombs.

APTN video taken immediately after the explosions from inside the hotel showed people evacuating through damaged hallways with panels from the ceilings and walls blown out in the stairwell. Debris from the blasts was seen on the floor of one empty room, where a television set was still turned on.

The hotel has been attacked several times since the war started in March 2003. On April 8, 2003 - the day before Saddam's regime fell - U.S. tank fire killed two TV cameramen - a Spaniard and a Ukrainian - at the hotel.

The nearby Firdous Square was the site of a statue of Saddam that was toppled as Baghdad fell to the U.S.-led coalition. Concrete barriers topped with barbed wire guard the Palestine and the nearby Sheraton, which is also home to foreigners.

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