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Clashes erupt in Baghdad
Threat to kill 30 hostages
Alistair Lyon

Baghdad, April 10
Street fighting erupted in Baghdad today and sporadic gunfire echoed across Falluja despite a new US truce offer and an effort by Iraqi officials to secure a peace deal with insurgents in the western city.

Gunmen shot at US troops from alleyways in northwest Baghdad’s Sunni Muslim Adhimiya district. Reuters journalists saw an Iraqi shot dead in his car as he tried to flee the area.

An Iraqi group told Al Arabiya television it was holding 30 foreign hostages and threatened to behead them unless US forces lift a blockade of Falluja. It offered no proof. But some hostages have been seized, including three Japanese under threat of being burned alive if Japanese troops do not leave tomorrow.

In the Shi’ite shrine city of Kerbala, pilgrims gathered in far smaller numbers than expected for Arbain, a holy occasion that US officials say could be a target for Sunni militants.

Anti-American Shi’ite militiamen were out in force, clashing with Polish troops. The US authorities said they could not guarantee the security of the million or more pilgrims expected.

The truce offer in Falluja came after Iraqi politicians, decrying US “collective punishment’’ meted out to local people, demanded a halt to the worst fighting since Saddam Hussein fell.

“Coalition forces are prepared to implement a ceasefire with enemy elements in Falluja commencing today,’’ Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt told a news conference.

“At this point it’s an aspiration. We are hoping to use this press get this message to the enemy.’’

The aim was to allow peace talks between Iraqi officials and insurgents, with no US participation, General Kimmitt said.

An Iraqi Governing Council delegation went to Falluja. ‘’They are meeting with religious leaders there, and with leaders of the anti-coalition forces,’’ council member Mahmoud Othman told Reuters. They planned to stay ‘’until a deal can be cut’’.

Othman said the team would ask Falluja leaders to hand over those who attacked four U.S. private security guards 10 days ago and then burned and dragged their bodies through the streets.

U.S. Marines launched a retaliatory crackdown in Falluja on Monday, triggering battles in which one hospital official has said 450 persons were killed and 1,000 wounded. A masked man in a videotape aired by Al Arabiya Arabic television demanded the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces from Iraq.

‘’We have Japanese, Bulgarian, Israeli, American, Spanish and Korean hostages. Their numbers are 30,’’ he said. ‘’If America doesn’t lift its blockade of Falluja their heads will be cut off,’’ he said. The footage showed none of the alleged hostages.

But several foreigners are known to have gone missing in a spate of kidnapping over the past few days, putting pressure on U.S. allies, including Japan, Britain, Spain and Italy.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has rejected pulling out his his troops, despite protests in Tokyo urging him to do so.

The Pentagon said two U.S. soldiers and an unknown number of civilian contractors were missing after an attack on a military fuel convoy in Abu Ghraib, just west of Baghdad yesterday.

Australian television footage showed a captive American, possibly one of those truck drivers, being driven off by gunmen.

Two German Embassy security guards went missing while travelling on the same main highway from Jordan to Baghdad a few days ago, the German Foreign Ministry said today. Officials in Berlin said they feared the pair had been killed.

A Reuters reporter saw two foreigners, one of them wounded, in a mosque at Abu Ghraib. Gunmen said they were Italian.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a close U.S. ally who has rejected demands at home for Italian troops to be withdrawn, paid an Easter visit to the contingent in Iraq.

He told troops in the southern town of Nassiriya he was proud of them. ‘’I bring you a big hug from all of Italy.’’

Italian forces battled Shi’ite fighters earlier this week for control of Euphrates river bridges in Nassiriya after radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr launched a revolt in the south.

In other violence, a U.S. tank was set on fire on a highway west of Baghdad on Saturday and locals said it had been hit by a rocket-propelled grenade fired by a 10-year-old boy. At least 51 U.S. and allied soldiers have been killed in the past week. Some foreign civilians and guards have also died.

TOKYO: Protesters rallied in Tokyo on Saturday, urging Japan to pull its troops out of Iraq to save the lives of three Japanese hostages as US Vice-President Dick Cheney arrived for the start of a three-country Asian tour.

Around 1,000 protesters demanding the troops come home gathered near Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s office only hours before Cheney arrived. — Reuters


Bush was informed of Sept 11 attacks

New York, April 10
US President George W. Bush was told more than a month before the September 11, 2001, terrorist strikes that supporters of Osama bin Laden planned an attack within the USA with explosives and wanted to hijack airplanes, according to a media report.

The warning came in a secret briefing that Mr Bush received at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, on August 6, 2001, an unnamed government official was quoted as saying by the New York Times today.

A report by a joint Congressional committee last year alluded to a “closely held intelligence report” that month about the threat of an attack by Al-Qaida, it said.

The disclosure appears to contradict the White House’s repeated assertions that the briefing the President received about the Al-Qaida threat was “historical”in nature and that the White House had little reason to suspect an Al-Qaida attack within the US borders, the daily said. — PTIBack

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