M A I N   N E W S

US copter shot down in Iraq

Fallujah, April 11
Gunmen shot down a US helicopter during fighting in western Baghdad today, killing its two crew members. Insurgents and marines called a ceasefire in the besieged city of Fallujah, but the fragile peace was shaken by shooting incidents that wounded two Americans.

Smoke rose on Baghdad’s western edge where the AH-64 Apache helicopter was downed by ground fire in the morning.

More helicopters hovered overhead, while the US troops closed off the main highway — a key supply route to the capital.

Brig Gen Mark Kimmitt confirmed that the two-member crew was killed.

Heavy firing was heard and tanks moved into the area near the suburb of Abu Ghraib, where masked gunmen had been wreaking havoc for the past three days, attacking fuel convoys and blowing up tanker trucks. Insurgents kidnapped an American civilian and killed a US soldier in the area yesterday.

The captors of Thomas Hamill, a Mississippi native, who works for a US contractor in Iraq, threatened to kill and burn him unless the US troops ended their assault on Fallujah by 6 am on Sunday. The deadline passed with no word on Hamill’s fate.

Video footage aired on Arabic television showed the bodies of two dead Westerners — possibly of two Americans seen by APTN cameramen on Friday — being dragged out of a car on the Abu Ghraib highway.

The video showed gunmen surrounding the bodies. They said the two were American intelligence officials.

One of the bodies lay sprawled on the pavement, his face bloodied and his right leg drenched in blood. The other body has his shirt lifted to reveal a bullet hole in his back. Both wore T-shirts and khaki pants often worn by private contractors.

Three Japanese, two aid workers and a photojournalist, had still not been released by today evening, according to a Japanese Embassy official in Baghdad, Hiroyuki Oura.

The Germany Foreign Ministry said two security agents for the German Embassy in Iraq were probably dead four days after their convoy was ambushed near Fallujah.

Fallujah — 55 km west of Baghdad — saw occasional sniper fire today, but was the quietest it has been all week. Sunni insurgents and marines agreed to a ceasefire that started early today and would last until the evening amid talks between Iraqi officials on how to end the violence.

Members of the Iraqi Governing Council were holding negotiations with city representatives in an attempt to win the handover of Iraqis who killed and mutilated four American civilians on March 31 and of other militants.

Hundreds of US reinforcements moved in place on the city edge, joining 1,200 marines and nearly 900 Iraqi security forces already involved in the fighting.

The most serious break in today’s peace came when a sniper opened fire on a US patrol, wounding two marines, commanders said. In the ensuing gun battle, at least one insurgent was killed.

“They are not playing by the rules, Sir,” Marine Capt Jason Smith radioed to his commander after taking fire in another incident in which the troops did not fire back.

“At the moment we’re just trying to get the ceasefire in place,” L. Paul Bremer, top US civilian administrator in Iraq, said today on ABC’s “This Week”. — AP

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