BAGHDAD, Iraq – Two homicide bombers struck Baghdad's police academy Tuesday, killing at least 43 people and wounding 73 more, U.S. officials said, while Al-Jazeera broadcast an insurgent video claiming to have kidnapped a U.S. security consultant.
The attackers were wearing explosives-laden vests and a U.S. contractor was among those wounded, a U.S. military statement said. U.S. forces rushed to the scene to provide assistance, the statement said. The military initially said the bombers were women but later retracted the statement.
"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 the death toll was 43, including seven policewomen. At least 73 people were wounded, including six policewomen. He said all of them were officers or students at the academy.
U.S. forces initially placed the death toll at 27.
"One of the suicide bombers detonated near a group of students outside a classroom," Task Force Baghdad said. "Thinking the explosion was an indirect-fire attack, [Iraqi police] and students fled to a bunker for shelter where the second bomber detonated his vest."
Insurgents have concentrated their attacks against Iraqi security forces. Tuesday's attack was the deadliest against Iraqi forces since Feb. 28, when a homicide car bomber attacked mostly Shiite police and National Guard recruits in Hillah, killing 125.
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 attack at the police academy came on a second day of testimony in the Saddam Hussein trial.
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 and showed a U.S. passport and an identification card.
The authenticity of the video could not be immediately confirmed.
If true, the man would become the second American taken hostage in the last two weeks. A U.S. citizen was among four peace activists taken hostage on Nov. 27 by a group calling itself the Swords of Righteousness. Two Canadians and a Briton were also part of that group.
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-Mohammadawi said he didn't have any additional information Tuesday about the kidnapping of the French engineer, Bernard Planche, but that the Interior Ministry had distributed Planche's photo to all the checkpoints around Baghdad.
In London, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on Monday encouraged the kidnappers of the Briton to make contact, saying "we stand ready to hear what they have to say."
The British Broadcasting Corp. cited a Western diplomat in Baghdad as saying direct contact had been made with the hostage-takers. It did not identify the diplomat.
Straw, however, underlined the British government's refusal to negotiate with kidnappers or pay ransom.
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 do seem timed to coincide with Saddam's trial or the Dec. 15 elections.
Mustafa Alani, director of security and terrorism studies at the Gulf Research Center in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, said he thinks the sudden increase is not an accident.
"There is some sort of policy to go back to kidnappings," he said. "The elections are coming and these groups want attention and publicity. That way their political statement will get a priority in the Western media."
On Monday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged that the insurgency has been stronger than anticipated, but he also said the news media have focused on the war's growing body count rather than progress that has been achieved.
"To be responsible, one needs to stop defining success in Iraq as the absence of terrorist attacks," Rumsfeld said in remarks at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
Also Tuesday, the Marines updated their report on the deaths of 10 Marines on Dec. 1.
The statement said the Marines from Company F, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, were not on a foot patrol, as previously reported, but were inside an abandoned flour mill when they were killed by an explosion. The troops used the mill as a temporary patrol base.
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.