Sat, Jul 03, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Militants hit Baghdad, free Turks

IRAQ TENSION Militants fired rockets from their homemade launcher in Baghdad as two Turkish hostages walked free after their firm agreed to leave

AP AND AFP , WASHINGTON, WARSAW AND BAGHDAD

An Iraqi police officer carries away an improvised rocket launcher after finding it inside a vehicle following a series of attacks in Baghdad yesterday.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Insurgents fired rockets yesterday in central Baghdad, hitting at least one hotel used by Westerners but setting their own van on fire, police and witnesses said. One man was wounded, hospital officials said.

The van, apparently used as a platform to fire the rockets, burned just off Firdous Square, where the statue of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was hauled down on April 9 last year. Clouds of black smoke billowed over a blue-domed mosque on the square.

One rocket struck the Sheraton Hotel on the opposite side of Firdous Square from the mosque but caused only minor damage. Another veered northward and exploded near the Baghdad Hotel, used by Western security contractors.

"This is the sixth time that the Sheraton Hotel has been hit since August," said Hussein Hadi, the night shift manager. "They think we have American troops here, [but] it's a civilian hotel. We have companies who have come to help reconstruct Iraq."

A US soldier at the scene said assailants fired rockets from a homemade launcher in the back of the van. Some of the rockets caught fire before they could be launched, he said, setting the van ablaze.

"After the incident, the car exploded," an Iraqi police captain said.

News footage showed apparent improvised multiple rocket launchers in the wreckage of the van.

A bystander, Ahmed Khayar Abbas, said that at about 7:30am, a minibus approached Firdous Square.

"A group of people got off and left. Then it exploded," he said.

Earlier, insurgents using rockets attacked the area near Marjam Hotel, which is also used by Westerners. One rocket struck a statue in nearby Wathik Square and another landed near the Indonesian Embassy, but did not explode, police said.

HOSTAGES

Insurgents also released two Turkish hostages yesterday, only days after their employer agreed stop doing business with the US military in Iraq, authorities said.

The hostage takers, who identified themselves as the Mujahadeen Brigade, freed the men after their employer, Kayteks, issued a statement promising to leave Iraq in hopes of winning their freedom.

"They have been released," said a Turkish official in Baghdad. "They are on the way to their company in Iraq."

The two hostages -- Soner Sercali, an air conditioning repairman, and his co-worker Murat Kizil -- were reported missing on June 1.

In a video aired by alJazeera television, the two men were shown kneeling before three masked insurgents. One of the gunmen read a statement saying the men were being released after having promised not to work with coalition forces again.

The Turkish Embassy official said no ransom was paid.

A US Marine, Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun, has also been abducted. The military on Tuesday changed his status from "missing" to "captured."

WARHEADS

Meanwhile, warheads believed to contain the deadly nerve agent cyclosarin which were found by Polish troops in south-central Iraq date back to Saddam's war against Iran in the 1980s, the Polish-led multinational force said yesterday.

"Beyond any doubt, the warheads date back to 1980-88 and were used against the Kurds and in the Iraqi-Iranian war,'' the statement from the Polish command said.

Polish troops recovered 17 rockets for a Soviet-era launcher and two mortar rounds filled with chemical substances late last month, the statement said.

Tests performed by experts in the US and Iraq showed at least two contained cyclosarin, the Polish Defense Ministry said on Thursday.

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