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Suicide bombers blasted through the concrete walls surrounding the Palestine Hotel in central Baghdad on Monday in an apparent effort to take over the hotel and grab foreign and Arab journalists as hostages, the Iraqi national security adviser said.
At least 20 passers-by were killed, but only about seven people inside the hotel - home to a number of foreign and Arab journalists and foreign contract workers - were wounded. None inside the hotel were badly hurt.
Iraq's national security adviser, Mouwafak al-Rubaie, said the attack - which appeared well planned - was a "very clear" effort to take over the hotel and grab foreign and Arab journalists as hostages. He offered no evidence to support the claim.
But security still photos showed a clear attempt to attack the hotel.
A US Bradley Fighting Vehicle parked inside the compound was destroyed in the blast. No one was inside at the time.
The security photos showed first, a white car drove up to the concrete blast wall that separates the hotel complex from Firdous Square at 5:23 p.m. local time. That vehicle exploded, blasting out a section of the wall.
Two minutes later and on the opposite side of the square, a second car blew up next to the 14th Ramadan Mosque. Then, one minute later, the cement truck drove through the breach in the blast wall and appeared to get about five to six meters (15 to 20 feet) inside the compound when it suddenly stopped. It repeatedly drove short distances back and forth, as if stuck on something, as gunfire broke out. Then it exploded in a huge yellow ball of fire and smoke.
Al-Rubaie told The Associated Press the men in the cars were armed with rocket-propelled grenades and light arms.
"The plan was very clear to us, which was to take security control over the two hotels, and to take the foreign and Arab journalists as hostages to use them as a bargain," he said.
Britain's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw condemned the attack saying, the indiscriminate killings had been carried out in the name of a "totally perverted ideology.
"It is a further illustration of the evil that we are dealing with," Straw said.
An AP driver who was headed home at the time reported seeing three vehicles headed toward the square at high speed, striking the concrete barriers and then exploding.
Associated Press Television News pictures also showed the cement truck moving backward and forward a few times inside the compound as gunfire blasted away before it exploded.
After the bombing, Iraqi forces opened up with heavy automatic weapons fire, apparently firing at random. There was no sign of a further assault on the hotel.
Al-Rubaie said at least 40 people were wounded, most of them passers-by. Inside the hotel, at least three AP television personnel sustained minor injuries. Another official, Deputy Interior Minister Hussein Kamal, said four or five Iraqi police were among the dead.
A US official in Washington said there were no known deaths inside the hotel, which is home to foreign contractors as well as journalists. The US military said no US troops were wounded in the attacks.
"Iraqi security forces and Coalition Forces are securing the area and bringing order to the bomb site," the military said in a statement.
The US military has a checkpoint at the only vehicle entrance on the opposite side of the hotel compound from Firdous Square, where a giant statue of Saddam Hussein was pulled down after US troops captured Baghdad on April 9, 2003.
US soldiers maintain a presence inside the hotel compound. Afterward they increased their numbers on the perimeter of the 5-acre compound, which also includes the Sheraton Hotel.
Glass was shattered, light fixtures were blown down and false ceilings were knocked off their hangers throughout the 19th story hotel. It was last hit in an insurgent rocket attack on Oct. 7, 2004. There was minor damage but no one was hurt.
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