BAGHDAD, Iraq April 12 —
Scores of black leather vests stuffed with explosives and
ball-bearings were found by U.S. Marines at a Baghdad school, along
with empty hangers hinting that suicide bombers might be wearing
them in the chaotic city.
More than 40 of the vests on hangers and shrouded in plastic lay
on the floor of a classroom Saturday morning, two days after Marines
discovered them in an elementary school in a middle-class
"Odds are high that someone is out there wearing one," said
Marine Lt. David Wright, 27, of Goldsboro, N.C.
A junior high school about 150 yards away was filled with
hundreds of huge crates of weapons, rocket-propelled grenades,
surface-to-air missiles and shoulder-launched rockets.
Residents said members of the paramilitary Fedayeen came into the
neighborhood of Zayuna about a month ago in pickup trucks in the
middle of the night. The Fedayeen fighters unloaded the weapons in
the two school compounds, each one just yards from the nearest
The residents said they had no idea what was being unloaded.
"We could not say, 'don't put it here, don't put it there.' We
couldn't prevent it," said Zina Selman, 45, whose house is less than
50 yards from the school with the apparent suicide vests.
The Marines discovered the weapons caches Thursday night. A
reporter from The Associated Press was given a tour of them Saturday
morning, as Marines continued to secure the compound to prevent
residents of the middle class neighborhood from entering.
The vests, sitting in what appeared to be a biology classroom
with diagrams of cells on the walls, looked almost professionally
made, each an almost exact replica of the others.
"They were indeed dedicated to do something if they strapped on
those vests," Wright said.
Each weighed nearly 20 pounds, the black leather filled with
blocks of C-4 explosive laced with ball bearings. Wires protruded
from the vests.
In a courtyard outside the classroom, sat cardboard boxes of
black detonators with two red buttons on the end and Velcro on the
side, apparently so the detonator could be attached to a vest. Three
boxes of dynamite and a crate marked "explosives" were nearby.
Next to the classroom lay stacks of long plastic bags filled with
reddish-brown puttylike blocks that appeared to be explosives. Some
of it was sculpted onto the back of a metal bar that Marines
speculated was a crude effort to make a shaped charge.
Residents said the Fedayeen left the neighborhood about a week
ago and lit a fire in that school. When the neighbors ran in to put
the fire out they discovered the vests.
"We have children, we have families, what are we supposed to do?"
asked Farouk al Amary, 54, whose house is just across the street
from the school. "We don't want bombs."
Selman said she left her house when the vests were discovered.
But the men of the neighborhood poured sand on the vests to try to
dampen any potential explosions and she moved back the next day.
At the junior high school, Marines slept in a courtyard just feet
from hundreds of crates of ammunition. Several crates of weapons was
marked "GHQ Jordan Armed Forces, director of planning and
organization, Amman, Jordan."
For the past day, residents had brought dozens of
rocket-propelled grenades, shoulder-launched rockets and even a
mortar systems found throughout the neighborhood to the Marines.
The neighbors said the Fedayeen had put the ammunition in their
yards, on their roofs and in their parks.
Wright said it appeared an effort to position weapons throughout
the neighborhood in preparation for house-to-house fighting that
Selman said she was sure here neighborhood was not unique.
"All over Baghdad there are bombs near people," she said.
U.S. troops in Iraq have been on high alert against suicide
In Baghdad, four Marines and a medical corpsman were wounded late
Thursday when a vehicle blew up as it approached a checkpoint.
On Friday, a car carrying an Iraqi family drove through a
checkpoint in Baghdad without stopping, and Marines opened fire
fearing a possible suicide attack. Three adults were killed, and a
5-year-old girl was wounded.
U.S. soldiers killed six Iraqi fighters wearing the head bands
and clothes of Islamic suicide attackers Sunday on the southern
outskirts of Baghdad.
The week before, two Iraqi women blew themselves up in an attack
on U.S. forces, killing three American soldiers in western Iraq.
In the first suicide attack against American forces early in the
war, a bomber posing as a taxi driver pulled up to a roadblock north
of Najaf, waved to American troops for help, then blew up his
vehicle up as they approached, killing four. Iraqi President Saddam
Hussein rewarded the attacker with a posthumous military promotion,
two medals and a financial reward for his family.
|With the fire from a burning
warehouse set ablaze by looters in the distance, an Iraqi
woman ahd her child cross the Tigris river into West Baghdad
after US troops removed their checkpoint in Baghdad Friday
April 11, 2003. Widespread looting continues in the Iraqi
capital. (AP Photo/Jerome
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