Two suicide bombers detonated explosives inside Baghdad’s main police academy Tuesday, killing at least 43 people and wounding more than 70, police said. Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack, the capital’s deadliest in months.
The bombing came as from insurgents claiming to have kidnapped a U.S. security consultant — the seventh Westerner abducted in Iraq since Nov. 26 — and the U.S. military reported another American soldier killed in a roadside bombing in Baghdad.
The assault on the police academy was carefully planned to maximize casualties, all of whom were police officers or cadets.
The first bomber struck near a group of students outside a classroom, a U.S. military statement said.
Thinking they were under mortar fire, survivors rushed to a bunker “where the second bomber detonated his vest,” the statement added. One of the wounded was an American contractor.
‘Two blessed brothers’
A statement on an Islamist Web site in the name of al-Qaida in Iraq said “two blessed brothers” staged the attack on the academy “which continues to produce the dogs that shed the blood and violate the honor of Sunni Muslims.”
The claim’s authenticity could not be independently verified, but al-Qaida in Iraq’s leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has often denounced Shiites because of religious differences and their leading role in the U.S.-backed government.
Iraqi police also said the attackers may have been policemen or students, fresh evidence that insurgents have infiltrated the country’s security forces. President Bush has linked an eventual U.S. troop withdrawal to the ability of Iraq’s army and police to combat the insurgents.
The attack was the deadliest against security Iraqi forces since Feb. 28, when a suicide car bomber struck a crowd of mostly Shiite police and army recruits in Hillah, killing 125. In September, at least 88 people were killed in a suicide car bombing in a heavily Shiite neighborhood of Baghdad.
More violence feared
U.S. and Iraqi officials have warned of an increase in insurgent attacks ahead of the Dec. 15 elections. Residents of Ramadi reported seeing fliers Tuesday in the name of al-Qaida in Iraq warning people not to vote and threatening to bomb polling stations.
First reports said two women had attacked the police academy, but the report was later retracted. Officials said the report was based on the fact that two women had been allowed inside the compound without a body search because no female officers were available to perform it.
“We were sitting in the yard when we heard an explosion,” said police Maj. Wisam al-Heyali. “Seconds later, we were hit by another explosion as we were running. I saw some of my colleagues falling down and I felt my hand hit, but I kept on running.”
Police Capt. Jalil Abdul-Qadir said 43 people were killed, including seven policewomen, and at least 73 were wounded. U.S. forces placed the death toll at least 27.
Also Tuesday, the U.S. military said a soldier assigned to Task Force Baghdad was killed when a patrol hit a roadside bomb Sunday. At least 2,129 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war, according to an Associated Press count.
The video broadcast on Al-Jazeera showed a blond, Western-looking man sitting with his hands tied behind his back. The video also bore the logo of the Islamic Army in Iraq, an insurgent group, and showed a U.S. passport and an Arabic identification card with the name Ronald Schulz. The spelling of the name was uncertain because it was written in Arabic.
U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Liz Colton said U.S. authorities were aware of the Al-Jazeera report and were investigating.
The authenticity of the video could not be immediately confirmed.
If true, the man would be the second American taken hostage in the last two weeks. A U.S. citizen was among four peace activists taken hostage Nov. 26 by a group calling itself the Swords of Righteousness. Two Canadians and a Briton were also seized.
On Tuesday, Bush said the United States will work for the return of captive Americans in Iraq but would not submit to terrorist tactics. “We, of course, don’t pay ransom for any hostages,” Bush said.
“What we will do, of course, is use our intelligence-gathering to see if we can’t help locate them,” Bush said.
French engineer abducted
A French engineer was taken hostage in Baghdad on Monday and a German aid worker was abducted near Mosul on Nov. 26.
Police Maj. Falah al-Mohammedawi said authorities had no additional information Tuesday about the kidnapping of the French engineer, Bernard Planche, but that the Interior Ministry had distributed his photo to checkpoints around Baghdad.
There is no evidence the kidnappings were coordinated, and those responsible for abducting the German aid worker and four Christian peace activists claim to represent different groups. But the incidents seemed timed to coincide with Saddam Hussein’s trial or the Dec. 15 elections.
Christian Peacemaker Teams appealed to the kidnappers to release the four activists.
“As you can see by the statements of support from our friends in Iraq and all over the world, we work for those who are oppressed,” the group said. “We also condemn our own governments for their actions in Iraq.”
Also Tuesday, the Marines updated their report on the deaths of 10 Marines on Dec. 1.
The statement said the Marines were not on a foot patrol, as previously reported, but were in an abandoned flour mill when they were killed by an explosion. The troops used the mill as a temporary patrol base, and were there for a promotion ceremony.
The statement said the Marines had gathered in the mill for a promotion ceremony. The military suspects one of the Marines triggered a booby trap, causing the explosion, the statement said.
“Explosive experts believe four artillery shells were buried in two separate locations,” it read.