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Suicide Blast Kills 26 In Iraq

A suicide bomber detonated explosives inside a cafe packed with Shiites in northern Iraq, killing 26 people and injuring 22, an Iraqi general said.

The suicide attack occurred about 8:30 p.m. Sunday in the outdoor market in Tuz Khormato, a mostly Turkomen city 130 miles north of Baghdad, Maj. Gen. Anwar Mohammed Amin said.

The powerful blast collapsed the ceiling of the one-story cafe, burying many of the victims, witnesses said. Hours afterward, rescuers were still sifting through the debris looking for the dead or injured. Authorities used mosque loudspeakers to appeal for blood donations.

One of Iraq's main ethnic groups, Turkomen follow both the Sunni and Shiite traditions of Islam. Amin said Shiites favored the cafe because it was near a Shiite mosque. But friction exists among Iraq's Turkomen and Kurdish populations, and the motive for the attack was unclear.

In other developments:

  • The U.S. military said an American soldier was killed in a roadside bombing in south Baghdad. No further details were released.
  • A British soldier was killed and another was wounded Sunday during a raid Sunday in southern Iraq, the British military said. It was the first British death by hostile fire in seven weeks. Two suspects were arrested after the exchange of fire with British soldiers, who launched an operation early Sunday in Basra province to capture "those associated with terrorist activities," the British Defense Ministry said in a statement.
  • U.S. military officials fear that religious hurdles in exhuming the body of a teenager could complicate the prosecution of American soldiers accused of raping and murdering the girl and create a political nightmare for the U.S. mission here. Given the seriousness of the allegations, U.S. officials believe a vigorous prosecution is essential and punishment should be severe if the five U.S. soldiers and one former soldier are convicted.
  • Gunmen attacked the detention wing of a hospital northeast of Baghdad in a daring daylight raid Sunday and freed more than a dozen wounded prisoners, police said. Three of the estimated 13 prisoners were recaptured after the attack, which happened at the main hospital in Baqouba, police said.
  • Gunmen kidnapped a senior Iraqi Oil Ministry official Sunday. Attackers stopped Adel Kazzaz, director of the North Oil Co., shortly after he left the ministry. They beat his bodyguards and whisked him away, ministry spokesman Assem Jihad said. The North Oil Co. runs Iraq's oil fields around the northern city of Kirkuk.
  • Some of the Iraqi hostages taken at an Olympic Committee meeting in Baghdad have been released. Six hostages were left blindfolded and unharmed in a neighborhood in the capital. The first found was a 75-year-old man. More than 30 people were seized yesterday in a daylight attack. The bodies of two bodyguards were found dumped on a street. There's no word on the other hostages, including the Olympic National Committee chairman.
  • The kidnappings of Iraq's Olympic officials comes a day after Iraq's national wrestling team pulled out of a tournament in the United Arab Emirates when its coach was killed in Baghdad. The Sunni coach, Mohammed Karim Abid Sahib, was seized with one of his wrestlers as they left the sports center to buy some sweets in the northern neighborhood of Kazimiyah, where the team was preparing for the tournament. He was shot to death while trying to escape; the other wrestler got away, according to police and wrestling officials.
  • In the case of an alleged rape and murder of a teenage Iraqi girl at the hands of U.S. soldiers, U.S. military officials fear that religious hurdles in exhuming the girl's body could complicate their prosecution, and create a political nightmare for the American mission in Iraq.

    Given the gravity of the allegations, U.S. officials believe that a vigorous prosecution is essential and that punishment should be severe if the six troops and one former soldier are convicted.

    Anything short of that would be seen by Iraqis as a cover up and could shatter remaining support for the U.S. presence here.

    Five soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division are accused of raping and murdering Abeer al-Janabi near the town of Mahmoudiya on March 12. A sixth soldier is accused of failing to report the crime.

    The soldiers allegedly saw the victim at a checkpoint in the town and plotted the attack for a week, according to federal court documents. Three of her family members were killed in the assault.

    But the victim's male relatives have refused to allow her body to be exhumed because of objections from a local Muslim cleric. Islamic law frowns on exhumations as desecration of the dead.

    "Chief among our concerns is carrying out justice. But when you get town officials or an imam saying that exhuming the body doesn't jive with our cultural sensitivities, that creates a massive stumbling block," a U.S. military official in Baghdad close to the investigation said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to media.

    Without forensic evidence, prosecutors must rely heavily on statements from the suspects. Defense lawyers will doubtless claim those statements were made under duress and seek to keep them from the jury.

    While some evidence has been collected at the home where the assault allegedly occurred, officials say none of it confirms guilt.

    "There is certainly enough evidence to get us into court. It remains to be seen whether the evidence that has been collected thus far is enough to carry us to a capital conviction," the U.S. official said.

    The soldiers, Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, Spc. James P. Barker, Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman and Pfc. Bryan L. Howard, are accused of rape and murder. They are thought to have conspired with former soldier Steven D. Green, who was arrested in the case last month in North Carolina.

    Green, who was discharged from the Army because of a personality disorder, likely will be tried in federal court. The former Army private pleaded not guilty to one count of rape and four counts of murder and is being held without bond.

    Sgt. Anthony W. Yribe, is charged with failing to report the attack but is not alleged to have been a direct participant.

    Those still on active duty face an Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a grand jury proceeding, to determine if they should stand trial. If the case does go to trial, the murder suspects could face the death penalty.

    The U.S. military always has insisted it will punish soldiers who commit crimes against Iraqis. During a visit last week, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld underscored that position, insisting that "no one" in the U.S. force "is immune," meaning from U.S. though not Iraqi prosecution.