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Baghdad bus attacked by gunmen, four killed
Updated: 2004-10-21 20:04

Gunmen fired on a bus carrying Baghdad airport employees to work on Thursday, killing four people and wounding 11 in a brazen assault on Iraqis helping to revive a vital link in Iraq's reconstruction.

Security sources said two cars of armed men stopped the bus as it was driving on the highway to the airport, on the western outskirts of the capital, shortly after 7 a.m.

One attacker threw at least two hand grenades into the packed bus and then three gunmen opened fire on the vehicle from outside, strafing it with bullets in a well-planned attack.

"The bus was riddled with bullet holes. There was broken glass everywhere," said an airport employee who asked not to be named. She said most of the passengers were office workers. There were thought to be at least 25 people on board.

Staff at Yarmouk hospital in central Baghdad said they had received 11 wounded, some of them in critical condition. The Interior Ministry confirmed the attack but was seeking details.

Insurgents have previously attacked buses taking people to work at U.S.-run bases, but Thursday's assault appeared to target people only very loosely associated with the Americans.

Baghdad's airport, formerly a huge military base, now has next to no U.S. presence and is protected by an independent British contractor. Thousands of Iraqis work there, mostly for the relaunched Iraqi Airways or for cargo companies.

In the past, guerrillas have specifically targeted translators, engineers and cleaning staff working for the U.S. military on U.S.-protected bases.

At a U.S. camp near the airport, a military judge was expected to deliver a verdict and possibly pass sentence on Staff Sergeant Ivan Frederick, who has pleaded guilty to five charges of sexual and physical abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib jail last October and November.

On Wednesday, Frederick, 38, the most senior enlisted man so far implicated in the scandal, admitted forcing at least three prisoners to masturbate and at one point hitting a detainee so hard in the chest that he needed to be resuscitated.


Witnesses also told the court on Wednesday that the CIA sometimes directed abuse at the prison, and that orders were received from the military command to toughen interrogations.

The evidence, from an officer and a chief warrant officer who served at the jail, is among the strongest so far in the Abu Ghraib trials pointing to more senior involvement in the abuse and direct orders from above to "break" detainees.

The Pentagon has said the abuses that took place were the work of a few "bad apples" acting on their own initiative.

In Baghdad, the husband of Margaret Hassan, a senior British-Iraqi aid worker abducted on her way to work this week, appealed for her release.

"She's not involved in politics or religion," Tahsin Hassan, a retired engineer, told her kidnappers through reporters. "She's Iraqi. She's working for a humanitarian organization and I ask you to release her."

Hassan, director of operations for the Australian branch of CARE in Iraq, was shown on a video broadcast on Tuesday looking shaken and alarmed. Her kidnappers have made no demands.


Her husband said she had been traveling with a driver and an unarmed security guard when she was seized, and that he understood at least one of the four or five gunmen who took her was wearing an Iraqi police uniform.

"I don't know whether it was for hatred or money," he said.

In southern Iraq, the U.S. military said the commander of a company whose soldiers refused orders to deliver fuel along a dangerous highway had been relieved of her command.

"The outgoing commander is not suspected of misconduct and the move has nothing to do with the guilt or innocence of anyone involved," a statement said. "The outgoing commander will be reassigned commensurate with her rank and experience."

In Britain, the government was due to make a statement on a U.S. request for British troops in Iraq to be moved nearer to trouble spots around Baghdad.

A spokesman said the government expressed "unanimous support" for British troops and agreed that London should do all it could to facilitate free elections in Iraq in January -- leaving no doubt that Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon will agree to the U.S. demands in a statement expected later.

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