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(AFX-Focus) 2003-03-29 01:16 GMT: Kuwait hit in missile attack, no casualties reported

KUWAIT CITY (AFX) - The heart of Kuwait was hit in a missile attack early Saturday, but there were no casualties, an Agence France-Presse correspondent at the scene reported.

The missile landed at around 1.45 pm local time 10 metres out to sea, according to an interior ministry official, but the fallout extended 300 metres into one of the emirate's largest and most popular shopping malls, Souk Sharq.

The mall, which closes at 10 pm local time lies just a few hundred metres from the foreign ministry and one of the emir's palaces.

Pieces of missile debris could be seen everywhere outside the shopping centre, surrounded by an overpowering stench of burning metal.

Glass doors were shattered and there was extensive damage along a 30-metre sidewalk outside the back of the mall, including the destruction of a cinema facade and a collapsed interior ceiling.

An AFP correspondent in the city said air raid sirens, which are supposed to give warning of incoming missiles, did not go off.

"It could have been a low-flying missile which is why it was not picked up by the air defence system. It could have been launched from the sea," explained another interior ministry official.

Amid chaotic scenes where Kuwait police struggled to hold back hundreds of interested residents and press, Czech nuclear, biological and chemical weapons experts took one hour to arrive at the scene.

Since the start of the week-old war on Iraq, some 15 Iraqi missiles have been fired at Kuwait, from where tens of thousands of US and British troops have moved into Iraq.

On Friday, the US military said F/A-18 fighter jets targeted three Al Samoud missile launchers in an air strike near the southern port city of Basra.

"The strike was carried out with precision-guided ordnance to continue to degrade Iraq's ability to strike coalition forces, the Iraqi people, or neighboring countries," it said.

fm/lp/cl AFP

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