Published January 01, 2004
BAGHDAD, Iraq – The death toll rose to eight in a car bomb attack that destroyed a Baghdad restaurant crowded with New Year's Eve revelers, officials said Thursday. Three Los Angeles Times reporters were among the 35 wounded.
No group has claimed responsibility for Wednesday's bombing, which came despite tightened security amid warnings of possible holiday terror attacks.
"The glass came flying. Everything else blew up. People were blown apart," said Basam Sarhan, a 25-year-old baker working in the kitchen at the back of the Nabil restaurant (search), located in an upscale Baghdad neighborhood.
The Los Angeles Times said three of its reporters and five local staff members suffered cuts and other wounds that did not appear life-threatening.
The reporters were Chris Kraul, from the newspaper's Mexico City bureau; Tracy Wilkinson, the paper's Rome bureau chief; and correspondent Ann Simmons, who formerly was the Times' bureau chief in Nairobi, Kenya (search).
Also suffering minor injuries were three Iraqi drivers, a translator and a computer technician employed by the Times.
Salar Jaff, the Times' Baghdad bureau office manager, was driving to the restaurant behind three cars carrying his colleagues when the blast hit.
"I heard the screams. I saw two people putting their hands on their faces all covered with blood and their bodies were bleeding severely," Jaff told the Times. "The glass was everywhere. People were just lying there. The cars were smoking, they were on fire."
Lt. Col. Peter Jones of the 1st Armored Division, said he pulled four bodies from the rubble and Iraqi police later found another four. At least five of the dead were Iraqis, said Lt. Gen. Ahmed Kadhem, the deputy interior minister and Baghdad chief of police.
The blast was caused by a car booby-trapped with about 500 pounds of explosives, said Col. Ralph Baker, division commander of the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Armored Division.
After the evening explosion, helicopters buzzed overhead as ambulances and U.S. soldiers converged on the Nabil, a popular spot with foreigners that advertised a New Year's Eve party with live music and belly dancing.
An American soldier leaned into the rubble after discovering a victim.
"She's got a pulse! She's got a pulse!" he screamed.
Several cars outside the restaurant were wrecked and in flames. Gunfire was heard after the explosion, which left a large crater on a side street near the building.
Sarhan said there were about 25 people in the restaurant at the time of the blast.
"The people who are carrying out such attacks do not discriminate about the place," said Police Brig. Hamid Alyasiry, who is in charge of Karrada, an upscale shopping and restaurant district where the blast occurred. "They want to frighten everyone to create terror."
One witness, Ahmed Hassanain, said a white Toyota Corolla car drove by the area five or six times before the bombing. The last time it passed, he said, the guard at the restaurant shot at it. It drove away. Two minutes later, there was an explosion. He said he did not know whether it was the Corolla that blew up.
"These people are terrorists," Hassanain said. "Nobody here supports them."
Outside the restaurant, a young man and a woman with blood on her face and shoulders wept and hugged each other. She said they were a family of six having New Year's dinner in the building next door when the blast ripped away the side wall. Her uncle was taken to a hospital, she said.
The area of the blast is frequented by rich Iraqis who shop and visit restaurants, and is lined with chic shops selling items such as cosmetics, curtains and upholstery. Three blocks from the restaurant, the windows of a big clothing shop were shattered.
Nabil serves wine and other alcohol — a rarity in Baghdad — and Western and Arabic dishes. Inside, big round tables set for dinner were covered with food. A bottle of White Horse scotch (search) was still standing but its neck was blown off.
U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police had stepped up security in Baghdad on Wednesday, erecting more razor wire and checkpoints in key areas. Military officials have reported the possibility of attacks by insurgents over the holiday period.
Earlier, a car bomb exploded as a U.S. convoy passed on a Baghdad street full of shops, destroying a Humvee, Iraqi police Sgt. Thabet Talib said. An 8-year-old Iraqi boy was killed and 21 other people were wounded, including five U.S. soldiers and five Iraqi civil defense personnel, authorities said.
Later in the evening, a bomb hidden in shrubs outside a separate restaurant in Baghdad exploded as a U.S. military convoy passed, wounding three American soldiers and three Iraqi civilians.
Near the southern city of Basra, a South Korean was killed in a gunbattle between Romanian soldiers and Iraqi insurgents, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported Wednesday. There was no immediate confirmation of the report.