BAGHDAD, Iraq, AP -A U.S. soldier shot and killed one of three suicide bombers who attacked the Palestine Hotel complex before he could reach his intended target and that probably saved lives in the building, the military said Saturday.
In a statement on Monday”s attack, the military confirmed for the first time that insurgents on the ground apparently lent support to the suicide bombers with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades in the well-coordinated strike on the hotel complex, where many foreign journalists live and work.
The three powerful explosions killed 17 Iraqis who were in the area at the time and wounded several people in the complex, the government said.
The attack involved three suicide car bombs. The first blew a hole in a cement wall protecting the complex. The second car exploded nearby as a possible diversion. Then a large cement mixer drove into the complex through the hole in the wall and exploded on a small road between the Palestine Hotel and the Sheraton Hotel, two 17-story buildings.
Video from a surveillance camera at the Palestine Hotel showed the cement truck was fired on by a U.S. soldier from inside the compound. Around the same time, the vehicle also was seen rocking back and forth before it exploded, possibly because it was stuck on barbed wire or had collided with a small concrete barrier in the road.
The military”s statement said one of its soldiers had killed the driver before he could reach the front entrance of the Palestine Hotel, where the journalists are based.
Spc. Darrell Green, a machine gunner, was guarding the complex from an observation post at the Sheraton Hotel when insurgents began their attack, the military said.
As the dust and debris cleared from the first car bombing at the complex wall, Green saw the cement truck enter and drive in about 50 feet, the military said.
"As he shot and killed the driver, preventing the vehicle from going any further, the truck detonated," the statement said.
The truck and its driver were obliterated by the powerful blast, making it impossible to know whether the explosives had been set off by a timer or by the driver before he died.
In an interview with The Associated Press, U.S. Sgt. 1st Class David Abrams said that for security reasons he couldn”t say exactly where Green was in the complex during the attack. But he said Green had fired from an elevated position using an optic device that gave him a clear view of his machine-gun rounds hitting and killing the driver.
"He was trying to kill people," Green was quoted as saying. "It was good we stopped him because he would have killed more people and destroyed the building."
At the time, the Sheraton Hotel was being hit with small-arms fire and what soldiers believe to be rocket-propelled grenades, the military said.
Al Qaida in Iraq later claimed responsibility for the attack on a Web site, but that could not be independently confirmed.