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U.S. presents new evidence to defend attack that killed 40

BAGHDAD, Iraq—At the site where a U.S. airstrike killed 40 people on Wednesday, troops found "terrorist manuals," machines for making fake IDs, battery packs rigged for homemade bombs and nothing to indicate a wedding party as some witnesses have claimed, a senior military official said Saturday.

Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the chief military spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, said evidence at the location about 15 miles from the Syrian border suggested that there had been a secret meeting of anti-occupation forces.

However, Kimmitt left open the possibility that there also may have been some kind of celebration.

"Bad people have parties, too," he said.

The incident has stirred further anger among Iraqis already bitter about the American occupation, and U.S. military officials have moved swiftly to counter the allegation that they may have slaughtered innocent people.

A videotape emerged late Wednesday allegedly showing the bodies of the dead, including children. Purported witnesses said the airstrike hit a wedding party.

On Thursday, a funeral was held in Baghdad for two of the victims, members of a band, including a popular local singer. A man claiming he was the only surviving member of the band said they had been hired for a wedding at the location and that the party lasted three days.

At a briefing Saturday, Kimmitt showed photographs of the interior of the targeted building that showed stacks of bedding—more than 300 sets—a table used for medical examinations, and medical supplies, including syringes with residue suspected of being cocaine. There were assorted firearms and a large number of prepacked sets of clothing.

"The building seemed to be somewhat of a dormitory," Kimmitt said.

He said the set up appeared to be a way station where foreign fighters slipping through the border could get bogus identification documents and clothes that would help them blend in with the Iraqi population.

Some of the dead had in their pockets foreign telephone numbers, including some from Afghanistan and Sudan, Kimmitt said.

About 35 men and six women were killed in the pre-dawn strike. There were no children among the dead, Kimmitt said.

None of the bodies had any identification, he said.

"No ID cards. No wallets. No pictures. They had watches, and that was about the only way you could identify one person from another," he said.

"We feel that was an indication that this was a high-risk meeting of high-level anti-coalition forces," Kimmitt said.

"There was no evidence of a wedding," Kimmitt said. "There was no decorations, no music instruments found, no large quantities of food or leftover servings one would expect from a wedding celebration. No gifts."

Disputing claims that there was a wedding tent, Kimmitt said no tent was present.

However, he said there were "inconsistencies," which he did not specify except to reference the videotape.

"We're continuing to explore all possibilities of what happened on the ground," he said.

In other developments:

A car bomb killed four people outside the home of a senior Iraqi government official shortly before 8 a.m. in eastern Baghdad.

Deputy Interior Minister Abdul Jabbar Yousif was slightly injured in the blast, which killed three security personnel and a civilian woman, officials said. A suicide bomber was also killed in the attack.

Officials said two men were still being detained for questioning in the murder of American businessman Nicholas Berg, but there were no breaks in the case. Two other people have been questioned and released. Berg, from suburban Philadelphia, was beheaded in a grisly killing posted on the Internet.


(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.