BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – Two suicide car bombers detonated vehicles Friday near a hotel housing foreign journalists, the second attack on international media in less than a month. The blast was also near an Interior Ministry building at the center of a torture dispute, but officials at the scene believed the hotel was the target.
At least eight people were killed and 43 injured in the blast near the Hamra hotel in the Jadriyah district, officials said. The first blast, caused by a white van seen on surveillance video, knocked down the blast walls protecting the hotel, blowing out windows.
The second, bigger blast was caused by a water truck which tried to enter the hotel compound through the breach but apparently was blocked by the crater and rubble from the first explosion, officials and witnesses said.
"What we have here appears to be two suicide car bombs (that) attempted to breach the security wall in the vicinity of the hotel complex and I think the target was Hamra Hotel," U.S. Brig. Gen. Karl Horst told reporters at the scene.
The blasts, less than a minute apart, reverberated throughout the city center, sent a mushroom cloud hundreds of feet into the air and was followed by sporadic small arms fire. Hours later, Iraqi found a third vehicle rigged to explode near another hotel about a kilometer(half mile) away and detonated it in place, officials said.
Several residential buildings near the Hamra collapsed from the twin blasts, which gouged a large crater in the road. Water from the second vehicle filled the small street. Firefighters joined neighbors to dig through the debris and under toppled blast barriers to pull victims from the rubble.
The deputy interior minister, Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamal said the heavily fortified hotel appeared to be the target, with the first bomb designed to breach blast walls protecting the Hamra.
If true, it would be the second attack against a hotel housing international journalists since the Oct. 24 triple vehicle bomb attack against the Palestine Hotel, where The Associated Press, Fox News and other organizations live and work.
"The investigation is under way, but the initial reports indicate so far the first car bomber was trying to pave the way for the second one, not on the main road, but on a secondary road to get in and hit the Hamra hotel, not the interior ministry," he said.
Saad al-Ezi, an Iraqi journalist with the Boston Globe, said from inside Hamra hotel that it was clearly the target.
"They were trying to penetrate by displacing the blast barriers behind the hotel and then get to the hotel," he said. "I woke up to a huge explosion which broke all the glass and displaced all the window and doors frames. I didn”t see a lot of casualteis among the clients but I saw one of the hotel”s security official seriously injured and evacuated to the hospital."
A Hamra security officer, Mohammed Hussein, said there were "some casualties" among guests but he did not say if they were journalists.
Deputy Interior Minister Maj. Gen. Ali Ghalib said the Interior Ministry building were 173 detainees were found last weekend is very close to the Hamra Hotel but "we believe that the hotel was the target."
"The hotel is fortified and the shelter is fortified," Ghalib said. "It was random explosions because the suicide attacker could not reach the target and that is the reason why the damage was to a civilian building."
"I think that the hotel was targeted because foreigners usually stay there," Ghalib said. U.S. Army engineering units were sent to the scene to help in the rescue effort, a statement from the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division said. At least one family was believed buried in the rubble, al-Mohammedawi said. "We are trying to rescue them and we hope to find them alive," he said.
A five-member family was rescued by firefighters after part of their house collapsed, police Maj. Raed Abbas-Salman said. The mother had serious burns because she was in the kitchen, while the father and three children suffered shrapnel wounds.