BAGHDAD, Iraq—On the eve of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Iraq's most-feared terrorist group claimed credit for setting off two bombs in the heavily fortified Green Zone, killing at least five people and injuring four American civilians.
The twin bombings were the first fatal militant attacks in the U.S.-controlled Green Zone, a compound of 10,000 U.S. and other coalition nationals and Iraqi employees that had been considered the safest place in Baghdad, if not all of Iraq.
A terrorist group led by the Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for the bombings.
American and Iraqi officials had predicted that militant activity would surge during Ramadan, as it did last year. The attacks remain under investigation, but officials said they thought the bombs were hand-carried into the 3-square-mile compound, a feat that would've required getting past several U.S. military checkpoints or somehow bypassing them altogether.
Those inside described a scene nearly identical to those that occur regularly outside the compound: ground-shaking blasts followed by scattered body parts and debris.
The first bombing happened around 12:50 p.m. at a bazaar in the compound that sells DVDs, Iraqi flags and rugs; five minutes later, the second bomb exploded in the Green Zone Cafe, a popular hangout for American officials, said Maj. Philip Smith, of the 1st Cavalry Division, which is in charge of the Green Zone.
Those near the cafe described two Jordanian men walking into the makeshift cafe—a metal frame tent covered by canvas. Once inside, the men ordered tea and sat down. Those in the cafe said they noticed the men weren't wearing identification badges and were carrying bags.
"Their faces looked different. It was the first time we saw them in the restaurant," said Abdul Razak Mohammed, 32, a waiter at the cafe.
After about 25 minutes, one of the men got up, and shortly afterward, the explosive detonated, Mohammed said. At the time, there were about 20 people in the cafe, half of them Americans.
The cafe was reduced to shreds and twisted metal. The area was littered with glass, parts of plastic chairs, bags, blood, food and flesh as far as 50 feet from the restaurant.
DynCorp International, a company based in Fort Worth, Texas, that works primarily for the State Department in Iraq, said three of the dead were its employees. They were identified as John Pinsonneault, 39, of North Branch, Minn.; Steve Osborne, 40, of Kennesaw, Ga.; and Eric Miner, 44, of South Windham, Conn. A fourth employee, Ferdinand Ibaboa, 36, of Mesa, Ariz., was missing and presumed dead, the company said.
Two DynCorp employees were wounded, the company added.
U.S. officials did not release the identities of the other dead and wounded.
DynCorp, which provides security and police training for the U.S. government and military in war zones throughout the world, was awarded a $50 million State Department contract to train Iraqi police and prison personnel in April 2003.
In August, three DynCorp contractors were killed by a Taliban car-bomb attack on the company's office in Kabul, Afghanistan, where DynCorp provides security for Afghan President Hamid Karzai and oversees police training.
A week ago, officials found a 5-pound explosive in the Green Zone Cafe and detonated it before it exploded. That discovery prompted American and British officials to warn that explosives could be planted in the compound.
In the hours after the bombings, fully armored U.S. soldiers with their weapons loaded scoured every last corner of the Green Zone, searching even the meeting rooms used by Iraq's interim national assembly and visiting dignitaries such as British Foreign Minister Jack Straw.
Iraqis in markets near the Green Zone said the explosion proved that the Americans weren't in control of the security situation.
"The Americans entered Iraq, and so did all the chaos and looting. They failed to protect the citizens and failed to protect the border," said Nabil Sabah, 32, who works in a money exchange shop. "They failed to protect themselves."
Some of those living in the complex said the explosion was inevitable, and continued working afterward.
"It's been a possibility for a long time," said a U.S. official who asked not to be named because American officials banned anyone other than spokesmen from talking about the attacks. "If you want security, don't come here. We kept working. We have a job to do."
Iraqi and American officials have said there's a $1 million reward for information that leads to the arrest of al-Zarqawi, who's thought to be linked to al-Qaida. Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has promised an aggressive response in Fallujah, where al-Zarqawi is believed to be based, if residents don't turn him in.
Before the attacks, law enforcement officials said they were bracing for heavy attacks Friday, the scheduled beginning of the holy month of Ramadan, during which Muslims worldwide fast from sunrise to sunset.
In Baghdad, restaurants were filled with people enjoying one last daytime feast. At markets, residents stocked up on food and said they hoped things would be different from last year, when attacks doubled during Ramadan.
"Our hearts have died. I am talking on behalf of most of the Iraqis," said Iman Jassim, 47, who was buying meat with her husband. "We just have to forget and go on with our lives and leave it to God."
Col. Safa Ali Hasson, who's in charge of police patrols in southeast Baghdad, said he thought there would be attacks Friday, and that his station was planning more patrols. He fretted that he doesn't have enough officers to protect the city properly. But he said everyone was better prepared psychologically for attacks this year because they knew they were coming.
The staircase leading to his office has streaks of dried blood on it, remnants of a bombing there during the beginning of last year's Ramadan. Pieces of the car used in the bombing are still outside. His police station was one of five hit that day; 17 people were killed.
"The first day of Ramadan is very important ... psychologically," he said. "It's like a student's first day of school. If there is a problem, it will affect the whole year."
(Youssef reports for the Detroit Free Press, Kerkstra for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Knight Ridder Newspapers special correspondents Omar Jassim in Baghdad and Charles Homans in Washington contributed to this report.)
(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.