BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) — A huge car bomb tore apart a
five-story hotel catering to foreigners in the heart of Baghdad
last night, killing 27 people and showing the continued
vulnerability of civilians to terror attacks just days before the
anniversary of the start of the Iraq war.

From the AP
Smoke rises from a five-story hotel in central Baghdad which was destroyed by a huge car bomb last night, killing at least 10 people, Iraqi police and U.S. soldiers said. (AP PHOTO)

Flames and heavy smoke burst skyward from the Mount Lebanon
Hotel, torching nearby homes, offices and shops. Rescuers pulled
bodies from the rubble and searched for other victims of the
attack, which wounded 41 people.

There was no official word on who carried out the attack but a
U.S. counterterrorism official, speaking on the condition of
anonymity, said Jordanian Islamic militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is
among those suspected of playing a key role.

Dazed and wounded people stumbled from the wreckage, marked by a
jagged, 20-foot-wide crater. A father cradled his young daughter,
who was limp in his arms. Coated in dust, some rescuers dug through
the debris with bare hands as uniformed firefighters fought the
blaze and ambulance workers stood by with orange stretchers.

“It was a huge boom followed by complete darkness and then
the red glow of a fire,” said 16-year-old Walid Mohammed
Abdel-Maguid, who lives near the hotel. A U.S. soldier a mile away
said the blast — which took place about 8 p.m. — felt
as though it were next door.

Army Col. Ralph Baker of the 1st Armored Division estimated that
the bomb contained 1,000 pounds of explosives. He said the bomb was
a mix of plastic explosives and artillery shells. That was the same
mixture of explosives used in the Aug. 19,2003 suicide attack on
the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, which killed 22 people.

Americans, Britons, Egyptians as well as other foreigners were
staying at the Mount Lebanon Hotel, said Baghdad resident Faleh
Kalhan. But some residents in the area said they believed guests
left the hotel a week ago after its management received threats. If
true, many casualties were likely in adjacent buildings. The
British Broadcasting Corp. reported that two Britons were among the
wounded.

The blast ignited at least eight cars, one of which was hurled
into a store. Some vehicles were little more than mangled piles of
metal. The explosion blew bricks, air conditioners, furniture,
wires and other debris hundreds of yards from the hotel.

The Mount Lebanon was a so-called soft target because it did not
have concrete blast barriers and other security measures that
protect offices of the U.S.-led coalition and buildings where
Westerners live and work.

The Bush administration offered prayers for the victims but said
such attacks would not change U.S. policy.

“Democracy is taking root in Iraq and there is no turning
back,” said Scott McClellan, White House spokesman.
“This is a time of testing, but the terrorists will not
prevail.”

The attack came three days before the first anniversary of the
start of the U.S.-led war to topple Saddam Hussein. It took place
behind Firdaus Square, where Iraqis toppled a bronze statue of
Saddam on April 9 with the help of U.S. Marines who had just
entered the center of the capital.

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