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Explosion rocks central Baghdad, hits al-Arabiya network offices

Explosion rocks central Baghdad, hits al-Arabiya network offices

Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq - A car bomb exploded Saturday outside the offices of the Al-Arabiya television station in central Baghdad, killing seven people and wounding 19, police said.

Police Lt. Ziad Tareq said the bomb detonated near the Dubai-based network's building in the western Mansour neighborhood of the capital, killing seven people, including one woman. Dr. Ahmed Ali of Yarmouk Hospital said 19 people were brought in for injuries in the blast.

Al-Arabiya correspondent Najwa Qassem said initial reports indicate that a suicide car bomber was involved.

"Most likely that is the case. We are not 100 percent certain. But the car was being driven when the attack took place, someone was driving it," she said.

Qassem said there were three bodies charred beyond recognition, including one of a woman. She said they could not tell if any of the three bodies were those of Al-Arabiya employees. However, she confirmed that one guard and one administration worker were among the dead.

"We are trying to list those who were in the building at the time of the explosion and are now missing, to identify who of our colleagues were killed," she said. "The problem is that tallying (the casualties) looks like it's going to take time."

A militant group claimed responsibility for the attack on Al-Arabiya's offices. In a statement posted Saturday on a Web site clearinghouse, the group identifying itself as the "1920 Brigades" said it brought down the building of the "Americanized spies speaking in Arabic tongue."

"We have threatened them to no avail that they are the mouthpiece of the American occupation in Iraq," the statement said. It warned of more attacks against this "treacherous network." It was impossible to verify the claim's authenticity.

The group said Elie Nakouzi _ the Christian Lebanese anchor who presents the TV program "From Iraq" _ is No. 1 on their hit list.

Nakouzi used to present the program from the network's offices in Baghdad before he was relocated to their studios in Dubai amid speculation that he had come under threat by militants.

Al-Arabiya's general manager, Abdulrahman al-Rashed, has been a vocal critic of Islamic militants and terror attacks. The network is owned by Saudi investors. It has sometimes come under attack by extremists writing on Islamist Web sites because of its perceived pro-Western stance.

Saad al-Husseini, a correspondent of MBC, a sister channel of Al-Arabiya based in the same building, said the networks' staffers were all in a meeting when the attack took place, "which led to the high number of casualties. We were all there."

Saudi news network Al-Ekhbariya is also in the same building.

Al-Husseini said the first floor collapsed on the employees inside "and were trapped between fire and the shattering shards of glass."

Qassem said the blast seriously damaged the network's building, including its broadcast room. A big fire erupted in the building. A giant crater was seen where the bomb exploded and 31 cars were damaged. Mangled body parts littered the street. Iraqi police and firefighters, along with coalition troops, secured the scene.

A number of senior Iraqi officials called to check on the network's employees and offer assistance, including Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and his deputy Qassem Dawoud, she added.

Resident Zainab Saleh, 40, who lives near the area, said the blast shattered her windows and filled her house with black smoke.

"I was getting reading to perform the afternoon prayers when I heard a strong explosion," she said. "I was shaken and stumbled out of the house."

The Mansour area has several government offices as well as homes of two senior officials, including Adnan Pachachi, former member of the Iraqi Governing Council and Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress.

Earlier in the day, Al-Arabiya had aired a video by an armed group holding hostage a Sudanese interpreter who worked for a U.S. contractor, demanding his firm leave Iraq.

That group called itself "The National Islamic Resistance, the 1920 Revolution Brigades." It was unclear if it was same group that claimed to bomb the network.

In the video, Noureddin Zakaria of Khartoum said that he worked for the Titan Corp., and was kidnapped during a military operation in the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi, 113 kilometers (70 miles) west of Baghdad.

Titan Corp., based in San Diego, California, is the largest provider of translators to the U.S. government.

Copyright © 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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