BAGHDAD, Iraq April 12 —
U.S. Marines searching a Baghdad school made a chilling
discovery: scores of black leather vests stuffed with explosives and
ball bearings, along with empty hangers hinting that suicide
attackers already might be outfitted to explode somewhere in this
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. Dozens of hangers were strewn on the ground outside
"Odds are high that someone is out there wearing one," said
Marine Lt. David Wright, 27, of Goldsboro, N.C. "They were indeed
dedicated to do something if they strapped on those vests."
Just 150 yards away, a junior high school held hundreds of huge
crates of weapons, rocket-propelled grenades, surface-to-air
missiles and shoulder-launched rockets.
Residents of the neighborhood said members of the paramilitary
Fedayeen came in about a month ago in pickup trucks in the middle of
the night. The Fedayeen fighters unloaded the weapons in the two
school compounds, 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.
U.S. troops in Iraq have been on high alert against suicide
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. On
Thursday, four Marines and a medical corpsman were wounded when a
vehicle blew up as it approached a checkpoint in Baghdad.
In another sign of the threat of suicide attacks, U.S. forces
Saturday stopped a bus near the Syrian border that was carrying 59
men of military age who had with them $630,000 in $100 bills and a
letter offering a reward for killing American soldiers.
Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said the men were trying to leave Iraq.
He said he did not know the men's nationalities, nor who had written
the letter offering rewards.
The vests were found in what appeared to be a biology classroom
with diagrams of cells on the walls. They looked almost
professionally made, each nearly a replica of the others.
Each weighed nearly 20 pounds, the black leather filled with
blocks of C-4 explosive laced with ball bearings. Wires protruded
from the vests.
U.S. Central Command in Qatar said in a statement that Marines
found 310 vests 160 containing ball bearings and explosives and the
rest only explosives. Sixty vests were leather and designed to be
worn over clothing, said the statement, which gave no other
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 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
were marked "GHQ Jordan Armed Forces, director of planning and
organization, Amman, Jordan."
For the past day, residents had brought the Marines dozens of
rocket-propelled grenades, shoulder-launched rockets and even mortar
systems found throughout the neighborhood.
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," she said, "there are bombs near people."
|A family is checked for weapons
and contraband by the U.S. Marines of the 24th Expeditionary
Unit at a checkpoint, Saturday, April 12, 2003, 9 kms. (6
miles) south of the Iraq town of Kut. (AP Photo/Wally
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