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US forces raid home of Iraq's biological lab chief 'Dr Germ'

US forces today raided the Baghdad home of microbiologist 'Dr Germ' who ran Iraq's secret bio lab.

india Updated: Apr 16, 2003 16:26 IST
Ravi Nessman & Hamza Hendawi (Associated Press)
Ravi Nessman & Hamza Hendawi (Associated Press)

US special forces on Wednesday raided the Baghdad home of a microbiologist nicknamed "Dr Germ" who ran Iraq's secret biological laboratory. Despite the start of joint US-Iraqi police patrols, throngs of looters ransacked food from a major Baghdad warehouse complex.

The special force raid, backed by about 40 Marines with machine guns, was carried out at the home of Rahib Taha, in charge of a laboratory that weaponized anthrax. Troops brought out boxes of documents and three men with their hands up; Taha's whereabouts weren't immediately known.

At the Baghdad International Fairgrounds, hundreds of looters helped themselves to sacks of sugar, tea and flour that had been stored in warehouses before the war. Booty was piled into a red double decker bus, or stuffed into cars which soon became tangled in a traffic jam.

A US armored personnel carrier was less than a mile away, but the soldiers did not intervene.

The looting came a day after small numbers of Iraqi policemen resumed law enforcement duties, and made their first arrest, in an American-backed effort to curtail the looting and lawlessness that has plagued Baghdad since Saddam Hussein's regime collapsed.

In one of the US military's most successful policing actions yet, a Marine patrol passing the Iraqi National Bank caught armed robbers Tuesday and recovered US$3.6 million in US currency. Other Marine patrols conducted raids, sometimes accompanied by Iraqi police, to secure key infrastructure sites. US forces are trying to provide security for hospitals and establish a cellphone service for emergency services to use while the regular telephone system is repaired.

Although major combat in Iraq is over, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, said he is still worried that Iraqi chemical or biological weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists.

The US military is conducting far-flung searches of suspected illegal weapons sites, but so far has not confirmed finding any of the weapons of mass destruction the Bush administration says Iraq was hiding.

"We still have a lot of work to do in finding and securing weapons of mass destruction sites and making sure that those biological and chemical weapons don't fall in the hands of terrorists," Myers said Tuesday night on CNN's "Larry King Live." US officials announced that Abul Abbas, leader of the Palestinian group that killed an American on the hijacked cruise liner Achille Lauro in 1985, had been captured in a commando raid in Baghdad.

Abbas is believed to have been inactive most of the time since the hijacking. However, Navy Capt. Frank Thorp, spokesman for US Central Command, said Abbas' capture showed a link between Saddam's regime and terrorism.

"The Secretary of Defense said that one of his biggest concerns was the nexus between this regime, that regime, and international terrorism," Thorp said. "And I think this demonstrates that nexus was there."

US officials would not disclose their plans for Abbas, captured during one of several commando raids Monday on hideouts of the Palestine Liberation Front. Commandos captured several associates of Abbas, as well as documents and weapons.

The commanding general of US Marine forces in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Earl B. Hailston, said Wednesday that much remains to be done even if Saddam's military has been crushed.

"We need to continue looking for and securing weapons, ferreting out the remainder of unconventional warriors, and we need to get this country started again." Hailston said, speaking at an airfield on the southern edge of Tikrit, Saddam's hometown that fell to the Marines this week.

In northern Iraq, US officers were trying to determine the details of an armed confrontation involving Marines in the city of Mosul.

The New York Times reported that 10 people were killed by US gunfire Tuesday. It quoted Iraqis as saying Marines fired into a crowd of civilians, while Marine officers said the troops fired back after being fired upon. "The Marines were fired upon by away from the crowd," Thorp said. "They fired back, but they never fired at the crowd. They fired to suppress the fire that was coming at them. I don't have any reports that they hit anybody."

Reports of casualties in Mosul raised concern that resentment of American forces might increase in the north's largest city. Anger at Americans already has been rising in Baghdad because of the looting and continued disruption of utilities.

US officials say it could take weeks to restore Iraq's power grid and water system, although some cities are already showing good progress. The system already was run down by years of sanctions and neglect under Saddam, and was further eroded by sabotage and bomb damage during nearly a month of war.

Iraq's reconstruction was among the topics in a fence-mending phone call Tuesday between US President George W Bush and French President Jacques Chirac _ their first conservation in more than two months.

Chirac, a staunch opponent of the war, told Bush that France is willing to adopt a "pragmatic approach" on post-war issues, said the French leader's spokeswoman, Catherine Colonna. Chirac also told Bush he welcomed the fall of Saddam's regime and the brevity of the war.

First Published: Apr 16, 2003 16:04 IST