BAGHDAD, Iraq – Gunmen in military uniforms robbed government accountants as they left a Baghdad bank with bags of cash on Tuesday in the second bank heist in a week, and roadside bombs killed at least two civilians in the Iraqi capital.
The U.S. military announced the death of a Marine in the insurgent stronghold of Anbar province, bringing to 61 the number of American military personnel killed in December. Some 2,950 U.S. troops have been killed since the U.S.-led 2003 invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.
There was no word on the whereabouts of Ayham al-Samaraie, a former electricity minister who escaped from a police station inside the heavily fortified Green Zone where the dual U.S.-Iraqi citizen was being held on corruption charges. Al-Samaraie walked out of the station on the weekend with the help of private guards who arrived at the station in sport utility vehicles, officials said Monday.
Gunmen in four vehicles drove up to the Zuwiyah Bank in Baghdad's Karradah neighborhood and fired automatic weapons in the air, then handcuffed guards and robbed accountants who had walked out of the bank with money belonging to the Ministry of Industry, police said.
The thieves escaped with more than one billion Iraqi Dinars (US$709,000), police said.
Hours later, guards at another downtown bank opened fire on a funeral procession, wounding a mourner. Police said the guards thought the coffin was fake, and that criminals were masquerading as mourners as part of an elaborate attempt to rob the bank. Police intervened and found the mourners to be genuine.
On Dec. 11, gunmen disguised as Iraqi soldiers stopped a bank truck carrying US$1 million and stole the money.
Also Tuesday, police said they detained 18 employees at a power station in Dora in western Baghdad, but did not say why the group was arrested.
The Iraqi Red Crescent said the total number of people seized in a mass kidnapping at the aid group's Baghdad office on Sunday was 42, and that 26 had been released. The Red Crescent, which has links to the international Red Cross, previously said 30 people were abducted.
All of the agency's Baghdad branches remain closed, but offices in other Iraqi provinces were open.
"The closure of Baghdad offices will continue until all the kidnapped people are released," agency spokesman Abdel-Hamid Salim said.
The U.S. military said insurgents detonated a bomb at a medical facility flying a Red Crescent flag in western Iraq, but there were no reports of casualties.
A Red Crescent spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity for safety reasons, said the facility did not belong to the agency. Red Crescent flags are often posted outside medical facilities that may not have a direct link with the aid group.
U.S. and Iraqi troops responded to reports of an explosion Sunday at the building, a former school that now serves as a clinic, the military said.
Residents said armed insurgents in black masks had left a bomb, and an explosion shortly after their departure destroyed part of the building, the statement said. A propane tank and other explosive devices were found in the building, but security teams removed and destroyed them in controlled explosions, the military said.
Al-Samaraie, the former electricity minister who had escaped once before after being convicted in October, walked out of the detention facility Sunday with private security experts who once protected him, said Faris Kareem, deputy head of Iraq's Public Integrity Commission. Kareem said the security agents were "foreign."
"Mr. al-Samarie was being held in an Iraqi police station in the International Zone," said Lou Fintor, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy. International Zone is another name for the Green Zone.
It was the second high-profile escape in chaotic Iraq this month. On Dec. 9, Ayman Sabawi, a nephew of Saddam Hussein serving a life sentence for bomb-making, escaped from a prison in northern Iraq aided by a police officer, authorities said.
Al-Samaraie is the only Iraqi official to have been convicted and jailed on corruption charges, although arrest warrants have been issued for about 90 former officials, including 15 ex-Cabinet ministers, according to the anti-corruption commission. His conviction was thrown out on appeal, but he faced a dozen other charges.
In other violence Tuesday:
— The morgue in the city of Baqouba said it received 12 bodies, including those of two women and an Iraqi soldier.
— A roadside bomb killed two civilians and wounded nine others near an electricity plant south of Baghdad, police said.
— A suicide bomber blew up near an American convoy in Mosul, wounding two civilians, police said.
— U.S.-led forces killed two insurgents and wounded another in Fallujah, and captured two suspected insurgents near Ramadi, the U.S. military said.