No Place Is Safe; Life in Baghdad: Some Suicide Bombings Don't Even Get Headlines Anymore
Nordland, Rod, Contreras, Joseph, Conant, Eve, Nadeau, Barbie, Flynn, Emily, Pape, Eric, Newsweek International
Byline: Rod Nordland (With Joseph Contreras in Baghdad, Eve Conant in Washington, Barbie Nadeau in Rome, Emily Flynn in London and Eric Pape in Paris)
Bricks and plaster blew inward from the wall, as the windows all shattered and I fell to the floor--whether from the shock wave, or just fright, it wasn't clear. The blast was so loud it sounded as if the building couldn't possibly stand, but it did. Toaster-size chunks of twisted metal fell in the yard and banged off the roof; later they'd be identified as pieces of a U.S. Army Humvee, blown up by a suicide car-bomb a full block away. No one was hurt in that building, which had been heavily blast-protected. But out on the street, 18 people perished, including one U.S. soldier; another three grunts were seriously burned and several children at a nearby Iraqi house were injured. Among the dead were three Iraqis who were incinerated in their car--which was so badly mangled it took wailing relatives more than a day to extract their corpses.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the incident was that it scarcely made the news. It was just another among a recent surge of terrorist attacks, one of two suicide car-bombs that day in the Mansour neighborhood of Baghdad. Besides, everyone was focused on the discovery of the headless corpse of American Jack Hensley, 48, found floating in the Tigris River. Gruesome videos of Hensley's beheading and that of fellow American Eugene (Jack) Armstrong, 52, played on Islamic Web sites. Armstrong's body was later dropped off only five blocks from his home, also in upscale Mansour.
In a way that bombs and bullets don't, the agony of the 23 hostages now being held by insurgents hits hard with Westerners here. It's not difficult to imagine yourself blindfolded and kneeling in a jihadi snuff film. The 140 hostages taken since April include a score of nationalities and people of many professions. Truck drivers, journalists, missionaries, businessmen--all have been targets. Many hostages have been released, but not recently. Of 28 people killed, 24 had their final screams recorded on tape and bandied about the Web. It's a form of terrorism that's deeply personal and, as in Beirut in the 1980s, disproportionately effective.
The day after Hensley's body was found, his surviving colleague, Briton Kenneth Bigley, 62, was shown in a video as he wept and pleaded with his prime minister. "Please, please," he said, "I need you to help me, Mr. Blair, you are the only one who can help me. I need to live, I want to live..." His captors are from the Tawhid and Jihad group, led by Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian terrorist with Qaeda ties. It was apparently Zarqawi--identified by the CIA from a voiceprint--who had personally cut the Americans' throats as they struggled and screamed; he then severed their heads and held them up for a bloody close-up--in one case, casually gouging out the victim's eye. Later another group, calling itself Followers of Zawahiri (after the Qaeda No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri), boasted that they had beheaded two Italian antiwar activists, Simona Pari and Simona Toretta, who had been snatched from their Baghdad home on Sept. 7. But no film emerged, and Italian officials said they believed the claim to be a hoax.
Throughout Italy, people hung white sheets from their windows in reply to a Vatican appeal to show solidarity with the two Simonas. In Britain, Bigley's extraordinary plea stirred up strong antiwar feelings, putting Blair in an awkward position on the eve of Labour's party conference. "I feel desperately for Kenneth Bigley and his family," said the conservative opposition leader, Michael Howard. "And I feel for Blair, too, who is in the most unenviable predicament." Blair telephoned Bigley's family twice to express his sympathy, but refused to give in to Zarqawi's demands.
That same day in Washington, President George W. Bush only mentioned the beheadings in passing, as he shared a podium with Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi at the White House Rose Garden. …