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U.S. nabs 6 linked to helicopter crash



Published: Sat, April 23, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Day of violence, bombings claims 9 Iraqi troops and 1 American soldier.

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- The U.S. military said Saturday it detained six men suspected of shooting down a civilian helicopter carrying 11 civilians north of Baghdad two days earlier. All 11 people on board -- including six Americans -- were killed, with the Bulgarian pilot gunned down by insurgents.

In continuing violence, insurgents detonated a roadside bomb near an Iraqi army convoy on the outskirts of Baghdad, killing nine soldiers and wounding 20 in one of a series of bomb attacks across the country, police said. When the surviving Iraqi soldiers responded with gunfire, they killed a civilian driving a car, police Lt. Ahmed Abud said.

An Iraqi civilian helped U.S. soldiers in Task Force Baghdad locate the six suspects, who were apprehended at two houses Saturday afternoon, the military said. It did not identify the suspects or specify where they were captured.

Bomb-making materials also were seized during the raids.

The Russian-made Mi-8 helicopter was shot down about 12 miles north of Baghdad on Thursday. Two groups claimed responsibility for the attack and released video to back their claims.

The dead included six American bodyguards for U.S. diplomats, three Bulgarian crew members and two security guards from Fiji, officials said. In one video, insurgents are seen capturing and shooting to death the crash's lone survivor, identified by the helicopter's Bulgarian owner as a Bulgarian pilot.

The military also said an American soldier was killed Saturday when his convoy was hit by a roadside bomb near Haswa, 30 miles south of Baghdad. A day earlier, a U.S. soldier was killed by a roadside bomb north of Tal Afar, 95 miles east of the Syrian border, the military said.

At least 1,565 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

Saturday's roadside bombing of the Iraqi army convoy occurred near the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, which was at the center of a scandal last year after photos were publicized showing U.S. soldiers humiliating Iraqi inmates.

The bombing was one of at least three explosions in Baghdad.

A car bomb targeting a U.S. patrol detonated on a road leading to the perilous airport highway. One Iraqi was killed and seven wounded, hospital officials said. Three American soldiers also were wounded in the blast, which knocked down power lines and destroyed one military and two civilian vehicles, the military said in a statement.

The U.S. military said troops found a roadside bomb on the airport highway itself and conducted a controlled detonation that caused no damage or injuries.

In eastern Baghdad, two policemen were wounded when a roadside bomb exploded, police Capt. Mahir Abdelsatar said.

In other attacks Saturday:

UAn Iraqi civilian was killed by a roadside bomb on a highway in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, said police Lt. Qassim Mohamed.

UA bomb exploded near a Shiite mosque in Abu al-Khasib, a town near Basra in southern Iraq. Two charred bodies were pulled from a destroyed car and two Iraqis were injured, said police Col. Karim al-Zeidi. It was not immediately clear whether the vehicle had been carrying the bomb.

UIn Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, a roadside bomb hit an Iraqi army convoy, wounding three soldiers, said Dr. Bahaaldin al-Bakri at the city's hospital.

Wave of violence

The violence was part of a surge of militant attacks that have caused heavy casualties in recent weeks, ending a relative lull since Iraqis voted in historic Jan. 30 elections. Iraqi leaders are struggling to form a Cabinet that will include members of the Sunni minority, believed to be the driving force behind the insurgency.

Also, a car bomb ripped through a crowded Shiite mosque in Baghdad during midday prayers Friday, killing 12 people and wounding 22, police and hospital officials said.

The bomb exploded at Al-Subeih mosque in the New Baghdad neighborhood, police Col. Ahmed Aboud said. Witnesses said the vehicle used in the attack had been parked outside the building since the morning.

After the blast, frantic worshippers searched through rubble for loved ones, and women wailed and beat their chests in grief. Body parts were strewn at the scene among piles of bricks, shattered glass and pools of blood. One man clutched a child's foot, shaking and weeping.

Claiming responsibility for shooting down the helicopter, a group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq posted footage on the Internet showing militants capturing and shooting the Bulgarian pilot, found lying in the grass near burning wreckage and charred bodies.

Heli Air, the Bulgarian company that owns the helicopter, confirmed Friday the man seen shot in the footage was pilot Lyubomir Kostov.

Al-Jazeera broadcast another video from a group calling itself the Mujahedeen Army in Iraq that showed the helicopter flying about 100 feet above the ground. At one point, the camera suddenly shook, swinging down to show the ground near the cameraman's feet -- apparently as a missile hit the helicopter.

When the camera turned back toward the sky, the helicopter was in flames, arcing toward the ground and trailing a pall of black smoke.

There was no independent confirmation of the authenticity of either video.

The chartered flight between Baghdad and Tikrit was believed to be the first civilian aircraft shot down in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. A spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq said an American medevac team arrived at the site within a half-hour of Thursday's crash and found no survivors.

Hostages threatened

Al-Jazeera television aired part of another video Friday in which it said a militant group was threatening to kill three kidnapped Romanian journalists and their Iraqi-American translator unless Romanian troops leave the country within four days.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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