Truck bomb kills chief U.N. envoy to Iraq
17 dead, 100 injured by explosion at U.N. headquarters
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The U.N. special representative in Iraq and at least 16 others died Tuesday in a bomb explosion that ripped through the organization's headquarters in Baghdad.
Sergio Vieira de Mello, a veteran U.N. official appointed to the post in May, was killed when a bomb-laden cement truck exploded beneath the window of his office in the Canal Hotel at about 4:30 p.m. [12:30 p.m. GMT; 8:30 a.m. EDT].
He was trapped in the rubble for several hours before he died. At least 100 people were wounded.
A U.N. official in New York said Tuesday night that a "substantial" number of bodies remained in the wreckage. Many were burned beyond recognition, and DNA tests will be required to identify them, the official said.
Given the location of the bomb, Vieira de Mello could have been the target of the attack, said L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq.
The bombing continued a recent pattern of attacks on "softer," nonmilitary targets in Iraq.
Over the weekend, oil, water and electricity lines were attacked by what a coalition spokesman said were saboteurs. Two weeks ago, a car bomb outside the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad killed 10 people. (Protecting soft targets)
Some U.S. officials believe Iraq is becoming a major "magnet" for al Qaeda terrorists, who now pose more of a threat than remnants of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen said.
Bergen said one counterterrorism official told him most of the militants are Saudis crossing into Iraq from Syria.
James Rubin, a former U.S. deputy secretary of state, agreed that the terrorism milieu in Iraq has changed, pointing to more attacks against civilian targets and fewer large-scale attacks against American soldiers.
"Let's face it, if you are a terrorist in the Middle East and you have a mission to kill Americans, Iraq is now the place you're going to want to go," Rubin said. (Full story)
An audiotape purportedly from an al Qaeda spokesman in Afghanistan that was broadcast Monday on an Arabic-language TV network called on Iraqis to continue their fight against U.S. forces and promised to send more al Qaeda members to help them. (Full story)
No group claimed responsibility for the attack. FBI agents already in the country were helping Iraqi Ministry of the Interior police officers with the investigation, said an agency official in Washington.
Flames and smoke rose from the wreckage for hours after the blast. Windows reportedly were shattered more than a half-mile away. Dozens of survivors were rescued, and U.S. troops helped evacuate the wounded by helicopter. (Bombing scene)
"The roof collapsed, lights went out and dust was everywhere," said David Marshall, a U.N. lawyer who was in the hotel when the bomb exploded. "It was difficult getting out to the front of the building, that was covered in rubble." (More on Marshall's account)
Another witness said he saw the truck smash through a wire fence and into the corner of the building.
Pentagon officials said the United Nations had not requested that coalition forces provide security and said the organization had its own security forces at the compound.
U.S. troops were outside a military civil affairs office down the street from the hotel and on the opposite side when the truck exploded, a U.N. official said. None of them were injured.
The 55-year-old Vieira de Mello, a Brazilian, also was U.N. high commissioner for human rights, having taken office in September. (Profile)
The United Nations has long performed many roles in Iraq along with weapons inspections, including humanitarian, development and refugee programs.
There are 300 U.N. staff members in Baghdad and 646 throughout the country. Among those killed in the bombing was Canadian Christopher Klein-Beekman, 32, UNICEF program coordinator in Iraq, who had been in the country since May 2002.
The bombing was one of the worst attacks on U.N. personnel in the organization's history. (Full story)
Bush: 'Contempt for the innocent'
President Bush, on vacation at his ranch in Texas, condemned the bombing.
"The terrorists have again shown their contempt for the innocent, shown their fear of progress and hatred for peace. ... The civilized world will not be intimidated," he said. (Full story)
A U.N. Security Council statement expressed a similar resolve: "This horrible attack, aimed at undermining the vital role of the U.N. in Iraq, will not affect our determination."
Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, who was among a group of seven U.S. lawmakers visiting Iraq, said the attack would not diminish U.S. resolve.
"We're definitely in a combat situation," she said. "This is certainly a sad time."
Other U.S. senators denounced the attack as a futile attempt to destabilize Iraq's reconstruction. (Full story)
In a related development, U.S. and Kurdish officials said Tuesday that former Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan was in U.S. custody. He was No. 20 on the coalition's most-wanted list and the 10 of diamonds in the playing card deck of suspects wanted by the United States. (Full story)