Celebration in Iraq turns to horror with suicide bombing

BAGHDAD — A suicide bomber blew himself up Sunday in the midst of a celebration to welcome home an Iraqi detainee released from U.S. custody, killing at least 25 people, Iraqi officials said.

Also, the U.S. military announced the arrest of an al-Qaida in Iraq figure who allegedly planned the 2006 kidnapping of American journalist Jill Carroll, one of the highest-profile attacks against Westerners in Iraq.

The suicide attack occurred inside one of several tents set up outside a house in the Abu Ghraib area on Baghdad’s western outskirts, according to residents and police. It was unclear if the former detainee was among the casualties.

Residents and police said Ayyid Salim al-Zubaie, a local sheik in the mainly Sunni area, had invited dozens of guests to a banquet in honor of his son, who was released earlier in the day from Camp Bucca in southern Iraq.

Residents said the detainee had quarreled with al-Qaida members while in detention and may have been the target of the attack.

Also Sunday, the U.S. military said a 13-year-old girl wearing a bomb-laden vest surrendered to Iraqi police in Baqouba rather than blow herself up. She led police to a second suicide vest and was detained, the military said.

The military statement noted that al-Qaida in Iraq conducted almost 300 bombings, killing more than 1,500 civilians and wounding more than twice that many in 2007, compared with 28 attacks that killed 125 Iraqi civilians in the first half of this year.

Meanwhile, the announcement of the arrest of Salim Abdullah Ashur al-Shujayri was a major breakthrough in a series of kidnappings.

He was captured Aug. 11 in Baghdad and, according to the military, accused of being the planner behind the kidnapping of Carroll, a Christian Science Monitor reporter who was seized Jan. 7, 2006, and released three months later.

The statement also said al-Shujayri’s associates were involved in the kidnappings of Christian peace activists and British aid worker Margaret Hassan, but did not elaborate.

Kidnappings of Westerners forced foreigners to flee Iraq or take refuge in heavily guarded compounds, diminishing the ability of aid groups and journalists to operate. Many of the victims were butchered and their deaths recorded on videotapes distributed to Arab satellite TV stations or posted on the Web.

Hassan, 59, the director of CARE international in Iraq, was abducted in Baghdad in October 2004 and shown on a video pleading for her life, calling on British Prime Minister Tony Blair to withdraw troops from Iraq.

She was killed a month later, but her body was never found. The case drew special attention because Hassan, who was married to an Iraqi, had lived in the country for 30 years and spent nearly half her life helping Iraqis.

Four men from the Chicago-based group, Christian Peacemaker Teams, disappeared Nov. 26, 2005, in Baghdad and videotapes later showed them in captivity. One of the hostages, American Tom Fox, 54, of Clear Brook, Va., was found shot dead. The other three — two Canadians and a Briton — were later rescued.

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