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Iraqi Tips Lead to Arrest of 6 in Helicopter Downing

By Caryle Murphy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 24, 2005; Page A20

BAGHDAD, April 23 -- Assisted by tips from Iraqi civilians, U.S. soldiers on Saturday arrested six men suspected of shooting down a civilian helicopter carrying 11 people, including six American security contractors, U.S. military officials said.

The chartered Mi-8 helicopter, which was allegedly hit by a heat-seeking missile Thursday about 12 miles north of Baghdad, was the first civilian flight shot down by insurgents since the U.S. invasion in March 2003. Ten people aboard the flight died in the attack, and one survivor apparently was shot later.

Smoke trails behind a flaming helicopter that was shot down by missile fire about 12 miles north of Baghdad on Thursday. (Al-jazeera Via AP)

On a day when bombings across the country killed or wounded dozens of people, a television cameraman working for the Associated Press was shot dead in the northern city of Mosul "when gunfire broke out after an explosion," the news agency reported.

Saleh Ibrahim and photographer Mohammed Ibrahim, who was wounded in the incident, had driven to the site of the 2:30 p.m. explosion, the Associated Press reported, adding that U.S. forces were in the area when the two men, who were not related, arrived.

"We are grief-stricken at the news of Saleh Ibrahim's death," said the news agency's president and chief executive, Tom Curley. He added that the news cooperative would "fully investigate this tragic happening so we can understand the circumstances under which it occurred."

The Iraqi public, meanwhile, maintained its hopeful watch for signs that it might soon have a new government. But the closed-door negotiations have become increasingly contentious, particularly between some members of the Kurdish and Shiite Muslim blocs, a source involved in the talks said late Saturday.

The arrest of suspects in the helicopter downing came after an Iraqi told U.S. soldiers that he knew where a blue pickup used by the attackers was parked, a statement from the 3rd Infantry Division said. U.S. soldiers accompanied him to the site, where other Iraqis pointed out two houses where they said they thought insurgents lived.

Shortly after 12:30 a.m. Saturday, the U.S. soldiers seized three men from the first home and also confiscated bomb-making material, the statement said. Three suspects in the second house also were detained for questioning, it added.

Two insurgent groups asserted responsibility for the helicopter attack in videos posted on Web sites. Besides the six Americans, the victims included three Bulgarian crew members and two security guards from Fiji. One Bulgarian survived the crash but was shot to death by the insurgents, according to one of the videos posted on the Internet. The videos have not been independently authenticated.

The circumstances surrounding the death of Ibrahim, the cameraman for the Associated Press Television News, remain unclear, the news agency reported. Col. Wathiq Ali, deputy police chief in Mosul, said the explosion in the Yarmouk area of Mosul had targeted a U.S. patrol and injured two Iraqi civilians, according to the Associated Press.

"The police did not interfere in that incident because the U.S. troops were there," Ali said.

Saleh Ibrahim died soon after arriving at al-Jumhouri Educational Hospital with three bullet wounds to the chest, Rabei Yassin, a doctor, told the Associated Press. Mohammed Ibrahim was treated for shrapnel wounds to the back of the head, Yassin added.

The U.S. military in Mosul did not respond to a request for information about the incident.

A special correspondent for The Washington Post in Mosul, Dlovan Brwary, reported that U.S. forces had surrounded the Yarmouk area in Mosul when the two men went to the scene and photographer Ibrahim got out of the car to take photos.

When the Americans began shooting in the air, the wounded photographer later told Brwary, he "ran immediately to the car, but the Americans shot toward the car."

The correspondent reported that the car's windows were broken and that Saleh Ibrahim had been sitting in the back seat. Brwary and four other Iraqi journalists were later briefly detained by U.S. soldiers at the hospital, he said.

Ibrahim's "fervent dedication to reporting the complete story of Iraq at this historic moment inspired all who knew and worked with him," said Curley of the Associated Press. "Our deepest sympathy goes to his family." Ibrahim had five children.

In other violence Saturday, a U.S. serviceman assigned to the 155th Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), was killed when a bomb exploded close to a convoy near Haswah, 25 miles south of Baghdad.

On the outskirts of Baghdad, a bombing targeting an Iraqi army convoy killed nine soldiers and wounded 20, police officials told the Associated Press. Surviving soldiers opened fire in response and killed a civilian driver, police Lt. Ahmed Abud said.

Another weapon, this time believed to be a car bomb, exploded near a U.S. military patrol and killed at least two civilians, police said. In a separate statement, the U.S. military said the blast wounded three U.S. soldiers and seven Iraqi civilians. The Associated Press, quoting hospital officials, said one Iraqi was killed.

Other incidents included the killing of an Iraqi civilian by a roadside bomb in Samarra, about 65 miles north of Baghdad; the wounding of three soldiers when a bomb hit an Iraqi army convoy in Mosul; a suicide car-bomb explosion near a Shiite mosque in a small southern town near Basra that wounded two Iraqis; and a roadside bomb at Yusufiyah, about 45 miles south of Baghdad, that killed one Iraqi National Guardsman and wounded two, news agencies reported.

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