Bulgaria, Philippines insist they won’t back down to demands of hostage takers
Associated Press Writer
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – Two mortar shells targeting a hotel housing foreigners in the capital hit a house instead Friday night, killing a child and wounding three others. A third mortar hit a nearby road, causing no damage.
Crowds including panicked parents searching for children gathered at the scene, where police fired Kalashnikovs into the air to push people back.
The twin blasts, which shook much of the center of Baghdad, were aimed at the al-Sadeer Hotel, police said. The house that was hit was empty, witnesses said, and the casualties had been in the street at the time of the attack.
One child, aged 5 or 6, was killed, police said. Three other people were injured.
“Suddenly, we heard a big boom, and I thought the ceiling was going to crash on my head,” said Abbass Jawad Mohammed, who was inside a nearby home.
Witnesses said children had been playing in the street just before the blast. One barefoot woman raced out, frantically looking for her child.
“We lost him, we lost him,” she screamed.
Also Friday, Bulgaria and the Philippines stood fast in the face of Islamic insurgents’ threats to kill their citizens taken hostage in Iraq, refusing demands to pull out troops or to pressure the United States to release Iraqi detainees.
As the two governments struggled with the hostage crisis, Iraqi clerics railed against emergency laws the government introduced this week to battle the insurgents, calling them undemocratic.
The Filipino hostage, Angelo dela Cruz, 46, and the two Bulgarians, Ivaylo Kepov and Georgi Lazov, were working as truck drivers when they were captured.
A group calling itself the Iraqi Islamic Army-Khaled bin al-Waleed Corps threatened to kill dela Cruz within three days if the Philippines fails to withdraw its 51 troops from Iraq. The deadline expires this weekend.
Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s Tawhid and Jihad group – which has claimed responsibility for the beheadings of two captives – threatened to kill the Bulgarians if the United States does not release all Iraqi detainees in 24 hours. The threat was made in a video broadcast Friday.
Philippines Vice President Noli de Castro said the government “will not be cowed and be blackmailed by acts of terrorism.”
But dela Cruz’s family appealed to Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to meet the kidnappers’ demands.
“Help us,” dela Cruz’s 24-year-old son, Julisis, tearfully begged on Philippine radio. “Please pull out. We want to see him alive.”
The family later met with the president. According to Labor Secretary Patricia Santo Tomas, dela Cruz’s wife, Arsenia, hugged Arroyo and cried on her shoulder.
Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi sounded a defiant note. “Bulgaria’s foreign policy is clear and predictable and there is no way to change it because of one or another group,” he said.
He added that Bulgaria “will do everything possible to defend its nationals,” but did not elaborate.
The U.S. Embassy in the Bulgarian capital condemned the threats and called for the release of the captives. “We are in close contact with the government of Bulgaria, and we will assist them in every way possible,” it said in a statement.
The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry said the truckers were kidnapped en route to the northern city of Mosul, coming from Bulgaria via Turkey and Syria. Their schedule would have put them in Mosul on June 29, the last day either man contacted his family.
Bulgaria has a 480-member infantry unit under Polish command in the southern city of Karbala, a small part of Iraq’s 160,000 member multinational force.
Although the Philippines has only 51 soldiers and police in Iraq, 4,100 Filipino contractors serve crucial support roles on U.S. military bases, freeing American soldiers for patrols and raids aimed at putting down the insurgency. Arroyo on Thursday barred government agencies from sending more Filipino workers to Iraq.
In sermons across Friday, Shiite and Sunni clerics criticized new laws giving interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi the right to declare limited martial law, impose curfews and freeze suspected insurgents’ assets.
“This decision is the opposite of democracy,” said Sheik Mahdi al-Summaidai, imam of Ibn Taimiyah, a Sunni mosque in Baghdad attended mainly by Muslims of the strict Wahhabi sect.
Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, in a sermon read on his behalf, warned the “law might be misused and be a fabricated pretext … to target the honest men of resistance who repulsed the occupation forces.”
Al-Sadr rarely appears in public since occupation authorities cracked down on his militia in April. He agreed to a truce after battling U.S. forces for two months. Sheik Jabir al-Khafaji read al-Sadr’s sermon Friday in the city of Kufa, 100 miles south of Baghdad.
Al-Sadr demanded foreign troops leave Iraq immediately or “you will see a lot from us and you will not be able to face us.” He also threatened to dispatch female “time bombs.”
The U.S. military command said Friday that an American soldier was killed in an insurgent attack on his patrol in Baghdad on Thursday. U.S. forces detained two people in the attack.
Another soldier died Thursday in a “non-battle related incident,” the military said Friday. The cause of death was under investigation.