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Beggars turn bombers in Iraq

Iraqis in Baghdad demanded more protection for markets, saying one of the bombers wasn't searched because she was known as local beggar.

world Updated: Feb 04, 2008 01:30 IST

A top US commander said that two bombings carried out by women wrapped in bombs that killed nearly 100 people in Baghdad underscored that Al-Qaeda in Iraq remains a serious threat, but he vowed the military would “not give back any terrain” to the terror network.

Iraqis in Baghdad demanded more protection for markets, saying one of the bombers wasn't searched because she was known as local beggar and the male guards were reluctant to search women because of Islamic sensitivities.

US and Iraqi officials said Saturday that pictures showed the bombers had Down syndrome and likely did not know they were being used in Friday's attacks.

Ali Nassir, a 30-year-old day labourer whose hobby is raising birds, said people with disabilities often beg for food and money at the weekly al-Ghazl pet bazaar on Fridays.

“I saw the suicide bomber and she was begging,” Nassir said, adding the woman was known to the vendors. “The security guards did not search her because she is a woman and because it is not unusual to have beggars, mainly women and children, moving around in the market.”

Iraqi officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were authorized to release the information, raised the death toll of Friday's attacks to at least 99 — 62 people in the first blast at the central al-Ghazl bazaar and 37 others about 20 minutes later at the New Baghdad area pigeon market in southeastern Baghdad Maj.

Gen. Jeffery Hammond, the top US commander in Baghdad, said the women appeared to be unwitting attackers. “It appears the suicide bombers were not willing martyrs, they were used by Al-Qaeda for these horrific attacks,” he said Saturday. “These two women were likely used because they didn't understand what was happening and they were less likely to be searched.”

He also reiterated military warnings that Al-Qaeda remains a serious threat despite major inroads against the network since the Americans began sending some 30,000 extra troops to the capital and surrounding areas in the spring.

“These two suicide vest attacks represent the worst of human nature,” Hammond said during a news conference. He said American forces would continue their targeted operations that have succeeded in decreasing attacks. “We will not give back any terrain here in Baghdad,” he said.