KUWAIT CITY – A low-flying Iraqi missile screamed across the Persian Gulf early Saturday, avoiding the detection of U.S. defense systems and landing just off the coast of Kuwait City, shattering windows at a popular seaside shopping mall.
Two people were treated for minor injuries after the 1:45 a.m. blast, the closest a missile has come to the Kuwaiti capital since U.S. troops based in the Persian Gulf emirate invaded neighboring Iraq on March 20.
"It came from the northeast part of the Gulf. It seemed to be traveling at a very low level," so no air raid sirens sounded, Fire Chief Jassim al-Mansouri said.
U.S. Patriot missile batteries guard Kuwait against missile attacks by neighboring Iraq. In Doha, Qatar, the U.S. Central Command said it was investigating.
The missile struck a small pier in front of the Souq Sharq mall -- a multilevel shopping center with department stores, restaurants, theaters and Western-style shops. The explosion shattered windows, blasted a glass door at the front of the mall and blew out huge chunks of plaster from the adjacent parking structure.
An Egyptian and a Kuwaiti were treated for injuries at a nearby hospital and released, the Kuwait News Agency reported.
Col. Youssef al-Mullah, the spokesman for Kuwait's military, told The Kuwait News Agency on Saturday that the missile that landed near Souk Sharq was manufactured in Iraq. Earlier, U.S. and Kuwaiti officials said the missile was believed to have been made in China.
Al-Mullah said the type of missile can be launched from a mobile battery and has a range of 56 to 125 miles. Iraq hides the missiles in residential buildings in southern Iraq, he said. Kuwait City is about 50 miles from the Iraqi border.
Later in the day, Kuwaiti Deputy Prime Minister Sheik Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah told the news agency that Kuwait has deployed a missile defense system to intercept missiles like the one that hit near the mall. He did not provide details.
It was the 16th missile Iraq has fired at Kuwait since the war began, said Information Minister Sheik Ahmed Fahd Al Ahmed Al Sabah. None has contained chemical or biological weapons, or caused significant damage. At least three have been destroyed by Patriots, U.S. officials said.
The mall is about half a mile from Sief Palace, the official seat of the emir of Kuwait. The emir lives in Dasman Palace, about two miles further away.
Air raid sirens have sounded repeatedly in the last week, cautioning the 2.3 million residents of this small, oil-rich state to take cover. A U.S.-led force in 1991 liberated Kuwait from an Iraqi invasion and many here voiced anger at Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
"My heart is still pounding," said Batoul Tabtabai, a 40-year-old housewife who had been shopping at a 24-hour supermarket about 200 yards from the blast. "May God take revenge on Saddam. There will be no security as long as he is alive."