BAGHDAD, Sept. 18 -- Insurgents killed 19 Iraqis and two U.S. soldiers Saturday in bombings across Baghdad and in northern Iraq, and kidnappers threatened to kill two Americans and a Briton within 48 hours if their demand was not met.
The deadliest attack occurred in the northern city of Kirkuk, where witnesses said a young man driving a gray Opel sedan sped down a dirt road leading to the back of an Iraqi National Guard building then blew up the vehicle near a crowd of recruits, killing 19 people and wounding 63.
Iraqi soldiers examine the charred remains of a car bomb that exploded outside a National Guard building in Kirkuk, where a crowd of men had gathered to sign up to join. The attack killed 19 people and wounded 63.
(Yahya Ahmed -- AP)
Two U.S. soldiers were killed and 11 wounded in two car bombings on the road leading to the Baghdad International Airport.
In the first attack Saturday afternoon, a suicide bomber drove up beside a convoy near a checkpoint outside the airport and detonated the vehicle, wounding three soldiers, according to Master Sgt. David Larsen of the 1st Cavalry Division.
Another convoy on its way to assist the first was also hit by a car bomb, Larsen said. That attack killed two soldiers and destroyed two Humvees and a Bradley Fighting Vehicle in which some of the troops were riding.
A security alert had been issued before the attacks for travel on the airport road and U.S. Embassy personnel were temporarily prohibited from using it.
Around 10:30 p.m., U.S. forces launched an airstrike near the restive city of Fallujah on "an armed checkpoint" linked to Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born militant, according to a military statement. "Informants linked the checkpoint to kidnappings and executions in the Fallujah area," the statement said. "Evidence indicates Iraqi citizens have been kidnapped at such checkpoints, taken to outlying areas where they were forced to dig their own graves and then executed."
U.S. forces have bombed Fallujah almost daily for nearly two weeks. Officials have said they believe that Zarqawi, who has been linked to car bombings, kidnappings and other violence, uses the Sunni Muslim city as a base for his operations.
Kidnappers purporting to belong to Monotheism and Jihad, an organization linked to Zarqawi, threatened to kill the three hostages within 48 hours unless all Muslim women detained at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad and in another prison in the southern city of Umm Qasr were released.
The hostages, two American contractors, Jack Hensley and Eugene "Jack" Armstrong, and a British engineer, Kenneth Bigley, were kidnapped Thursday at their residence in the capital. A video first broadcast on al-Jazeera television showed three blindfolded men seated before a gunman dressed in black, his face covered by a black scarf. On the video, the hostages state their names and jobs.
Armstrong's cousin, Minnta Davis, said she recognized him in the video, which was rebroadcast on U.S. television. "We only know what they're showing on television," Davis told the Associated Press. "We don't really know anything. . . . We just know there are just a lot of prayers for him."
U.S. officials have said the only women held by coalition forces in Iraq were biologists allegedly connected to a weapons program under former president Saddam Hussein. The women, Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash and Rihab Taha, are both being held at Camp Cropper near the Baghdad airport, U.S. officials have said.
The Islam Memo Web site reported it had received a message from a group holding two French journalists saying that the two hostages had been released, according to the Reuters news agency. A spokesman for the French government, which has been working to gain their freedom, told Reuters it was "premature to say whether or not this statement is authentic. We are analyzing it."
The two French journalists were kidnapped on a road south of Baghdad on Aug. 19. Two Italian aid workers kidnapped on Sept. 7 in the capital are also being held.