BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – The U.S. military conceded on Thursday it did not know if two women who carried out bombings in Baghdad that killed almost 100 people were mentally handicapped, casting doubt on earlier assertions.
Reports that al Qaeda was using mentally impaired women to unwittingly carry out attacks provoked widespread outrage and Washington said it proved that the militant group would stop at nothing to spread violence in Iraq.
On the day of the blasts on Feb 1., Iraqi officials said reports indicated the women had both suffered from Down’s syndrome, a genetic disorder.
The U.S. military echoed those comments, saying al Qaeda militants had duped two mentally handicapped teenagers to carry bombs into packed pet markets, killing 99 civilians in the deadliest attack in the Iraqi capital since last April. But in a statement to Reuters on Thursday, U.S. military spokesman Rear Admiral Greg Smith said he was unable to say for certain whether the women were actually mentally handicapped. “On Feb. 6, I said the initial review by the government of Iraq concluded that the women had Down’s syndrome. We do not know today whether or not that was the case,” Smith said. “We do know that both women had been treated for mental health issues. At this time we are not in a position to judge whether or not the women suffered from additional mental challenges.”
After the attacks, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said they showed al Qaeda was “the most brutal and the most bankrupt of movements” which would “do anything”.
Smith said at the time they were “proof of the depths that al Qaeda will go to achieve its objectives in Iraq”. Both U.S. and Iraqi officials suggested that the women might have been able to get past checkpoints unsearched because they had mental disabilities.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Smith said the women’s medical records showed they had been treated “extensively” for psychiatric problems.
Ten days ago U.S. forces raided a psychiatric hospital and arrested its director on suspicion he was involved in passing on details of patients to the Sunni Islamist militants.
On Tuesday, U.S. military said the Interior Ministry had a plan to round up beggars and mentally handicapped people from Baghdad’s streets to prevent al Qaeda using them in suicide bomb attacks.