BAGHDAD — A Baghdad mental hospital administrator has been arrested on suspicion of supplying mental patients to insurgents for use in suicide bombings, a U.S. military spokesman said Wednesday.
The interim administrator at al Rashad psychiatric hospital was arrested Sunday and is being questioned in U.S. custody, said the spokesman, Rear Adm. Greg Smith.
The arrest was part of the probe into double suicide bombings Feb. 1 in Baghdad, which claimed at least 99 lives and were the worst such attack in the capital in nine months.
Iraqi authorities announced within hours of the blasts that the perpetrators were teenage girls with Down syndrome who may have been unwilling participants. U.S. authorities now think that version of events was inaccurate.
A senior American official who asked not to be named because he wasn't authorized to discuss the case publicly said that American investigators now thought that the bombers were adults — one in her 20s, the other in her 30s — with long histories of psychiatric conditions including depression and schizophrenia.
Investigators think that early Iraqi accounts that the bombers escaped security efforts because they were well-known in the two markets where the bombings occurred also were incorrect. While one of the women was from Baghdad, the other was from outside the city, the senior U.S. official said.
The administrator who's being questioned is suspected of using his access to mental patients' records and possibly providing them to Islamic extremists, the official said.
The U.S. version of events squares better with what witnesses at the market have told McClatchy.
Vendors and other regulars interviewed at the Al Ghazil and New Baghdad markets said they hadn't recognized either woman, and vendors at the New Baghdad market said the bomber there had shown no signs of obvious mental impairment or Down syndrome.
The witnesses also said that Iraqi police investigators hadn't returned to the markets to question them about what they'd seen or to learn more about the women.
"We didn't know her and we hadn't seen her before," said one shop owner at the New Baghdad market, who said that two of his cousins had died in the blast. He agreed to speak only if his name weren't used, out of fear for his safety.
"After the explosion, no one came and showed us any picture of a woman, neither the police nor the security forces," he said.
Security remains an issue at the markets: Women entering them still aren't patted down for explosives or other weapons. In Muslim cultures, it's considered taboo for a man to touch a woman who isn't a family member.
Mohammed Sahib, 23, said he remembered the bomber at the New Baghdad market because she was the first woman he'd ever seen there.
He recalled her exiting a gray Opel sedan. She wore a light veil over her face and a black cloak known as an abaya. Sahib described her as "beautiful" and said she was in her late 20s or 30s.
"Anyone who says she has Down syndrome is a liar," he said.
He said he'd asked where she was headed. "I want to buy some seed,' " he said she replied.
She walked away calmly through the crowd. Then, he said, he felt the explosion.
(Lannen reports for the Lexington, Ky., Herald-Leader. McClatchy Special Correspondents Laith Hammoudi and Sahar Issa contributed to this report.)
McClatchy Newspapers 2008