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Car Bomb Kills 4 Iraqis Outside Hotel

Car Bomb Kills 4 Iraqis Outside Hotel

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- A suicide bomber exploded a car Thursday near a hotel in the southern city of Basra as a British military patrol passed by, killing three bystanders -- the latest in a series of attacks just before the anniversary of the start of the war.

In Baghdad, the U.S. military lowered the death toll in Wednesday's suicide bombing at another hotel to seven, after initially putting it at 27.

Car Bomb Kills 4 Iraqis Outside Hotel

A man suspected of being involved in the Basra bombing and who got out of the vehicle shortly before the blast, was caught by passers-by and stabbed to death, Lt. Col. Ali Kazem of the Iraqi police said. Two others also spotted getting out of the vehicle before the explosion were caught by members of the public and later arrested.

At least 15 people were wounded, including three seriously, hospital officials said. Ambulances rushed to the area, and Iraqi police and British forces tried to push the crowd back.

Car Bomb Kills 4 Iraqis Outside Hotel

The three civilians killed were two men and a boy, police said. The body of the suspected suicide bomber was still in the vehicle. No British soldiers were wounded in the attack.

Unlike other areas of Iraq, Basra has been relatively calm.

In the Baghdad bombing, the military had first said 27 people were killed. On Thursday, U.S. Army Col. Jill Morgenthaler put the toll at 17, and Brig Gen. Mark Kimmitt later lowered it to seven.

Iraq doesn't have a centralized system for handling such tragedies and with the bodies of victims going to different morgues, death tolls are ofthen in dispute.

Elsewhere, gunmen opened fire on a minibus, killing three Iraqi journalists and wounding nine other employees of a coalition-funded TV station in northeastern Iraq, police said.

Rebels often target Iraqis perceived as collaborators with the Americans, and the attacks underlined the continued vulnerability of Iraqi civilians nearly a year after Saddam Hussein was ousted.

Insurgents also fired mortar rounds at two U.S. military bases on Wednesday, killing three American soldiers and wounding nine others, the military said Thursday. The deaths brought to 567 the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq since the start of hostilities last year, according to Defense Department figures.

Car Bomb Kills 4 Iraqis Outside Hotel

Kimmitt said 35 people were wounded in Wednesday's car bombing at the Mount Lebanon Hotel in the heart of Baghdad. One Briton was killed and another was wounded, the British government said.

Morgenthaler confirmed the attack was a suicide bombing but said the destroyed Mount Lebanon Hotel may not have been the intended target because the vehicle loaded with explosives was in the middle of the street and not parked in front of the hotel.

"It may have been a different target, it may have been a different day the bomber intended to use this car bomb," Kimmitt told ABC's "Good Morning America." "It does not appear as if the car was able to pull in front of the hotel and detonate, which is why it is not as declarative as we may have thought at first."

Morgenthaler said it was not clear what the target may have been. The hotel is in the middle of a busy district that is both commercial and residential.

Shawayas, the council official, said the vehicle was moving at the time of the explosion, indicating it was a suicide attack.

The explosion, which left a jagged 20-foot crater, a lso set ablaze nearby homes, offices, cars and shops, sending dazed and wounded people stumbling from the wreckage.

A spokesman for the Iraqi Governing Council, Hamid al-Kafaai, blamed al-Qaida for the blast but offered no evidence.

"It is aimed at terrorizing the civilians, destabilizing the country and hampering the democratic march in the country," he said.

A U.S. counterterrorism official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said al-Qaida-linked Jordanian Islamic militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is among those suspected of playing a key role.

The Mount Lebanon was a so-called "soft target" because it did not have concrete blast barriers and other security measures that protect offices of the U.S.-led coalition and buildings where Westerners live and work.

Shawayas said that suggests "this terrorist group is weak and cannot get to important targets."

He said the attackers were foreigners, according to collected evidence, which he did not disclose.

The U.S.-funded Arabic Al-Hurra television station captured the blast on video. As a massive fireball explodes into the night sky about a half- mile away and a second later a thunderous boom is heard, an Iraqi woman in a Muslim shawl who was about to be interviewed ducks for cover.

Rescuers pulled two more bodies from the rubble before dawn Thursday and smoke poured from the site 12 hours after the 8:09 p.m. explosion. The nationalities of all the dead were not immediately known, though most were expected to be Iraqi.

A Moroccan, three Jordanians, two Britons, two Lebanese and an Egyptian were registered at the Lebanese-owned hotel, duty manager Bashir Abdel-Hadi said.

He said among those killed were the hotel's three security guards, who were standing in front at the time.

Much of the damage was done to surrounding buildings. Across the street, the one-story house of a Christian family of seven was virtually destroyed. Associated Press reporters saw four bodies in the wreckage.

"I was sleeping in the room and then I heard a huge explosion, I ran out and then I was hit against the wall," said Jihad Abu Muslah, from a bed in Al Kindi Hospital, bandages on his face.

A U.S. soldier less than a half-mile away said the blast felt as though it were next door.

U.S. Army Col. Ralph Baker of the 1st Armored Division estimated the bomb contained 1,000 pounds of explosives and was a mixture of plastic explosives and artillery shells -- the same components used in the Aug. 19 suicide attack on the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad that killed 22.

The Iraqi journalists were killed in the city of Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, when attackers in a car opened fire on the minibus they were riding in, said Sanaa al-Daghistani, information director of Diyala TV.

The attack came three days before the anniversary of the start of the U.S.-led war, which began on March 20. It took place behind Firdaus Square, where Iraqis toppled a bronze statue of Saddam on April 9 with the help of U.S. Marines who had just entered the center of the capital.

In Fallujah, insurgents clashed with U.S. troops Thursday, leaving a civilian dead, another wounded and two U.S. soldiers slightly hurt, witnesses said.

At least 10 masked attackers used AK-47 rifles and rocket-propelled grenades against the soldiers, who were guarding a building where a meeting between local officials and U.S. military authorities was under way. Military helicopters and jet fighters flew overhead as the troops fired back.

A U.S. military media official said she had no information on the clash. Fallujah is part of the so-called Sunni Triangle, an area which has been a hotbed of anti-Coalition attacks.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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