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April 12, 2003

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Marines Find Cache of Suicide Bomb Vests
U.S. Marines Discover Cache of Nearly 50 Suicide Bomb Vests in School in Central Baghdad

The Associated Press

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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 neighborhood.

"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 houses.

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 never happened.

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 attacks.

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.

photo credit and caption:
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 Delay)

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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