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Iraq Transition

Al Qaeda 'safe house' hit in Iraq

Basra suicide blast kills 16, U.S. hostage freed

At least 16 people died in a suicide blast in Basra on Wednesday.


• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide



BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A coalition air strike has demolished what authorities believe was an al Qaeda-linked terrorist safe house in the western Iraqi city of al-Jaramil and a man believed to be a foreign fighter facilitator was killed, Multi-National Forces officials said early Thursday.

Abu Ali, described by the military as a "senior al Qaeda foreign fighter facilitator," was believed to be in the house at the time of the strike on Wednesday, authorities said.

They added Ali has been linked to other al Qaeda terrorists and facilitators in Hit, al Qaim, Karabila and Husayba. He also had al Qaeda connections in the Mosul area, officials said, including one man captured in June and another man killed in August.

Ali was also thought to have al Qaeda connections in Syria and Saudi Arabia where most of his foreign fighters were recruited, the military said in a written statement.

He was believed to have funneled the foreign fighters into Iraq and sent them to various terrorist groups, where they participated in attacks against Iraqi citizens along with Iraqi Security Forces and Coalition Forces, authorities said.

After the air strike, coalition forces saw large secondary explosions, indicating that a large weapons cache was destroyed, the military said.

Meanwhile, a car bomb detonated in a popular Basra neighborhood Wednesday evening, killing 16 civilians and wounding 21 others, authorities said.

Two women and two children were among the dead, according to an Iraqi army official said.

U.S. authorities also reported they had freed Roy Hallums, a U.S. contractor kidnapped in Baghdad 10 months ago.

Earlier Wednesday, four American private security contractors were killed when their vehicle, part of a U.S. diplomatic convoy, struck a roadside bomb in southern Basra, a western official in Baghdad told CNN.

The improvised explosive device detonated at the foot of the Ghazyza bridge about 8:30 a.m. (0430 GMT).

Three contractors were killed on the spot, the official said. One was flown to a hospital and later died of injuries.

The diplomats were attached to the U.S. consulate in Basra. No details are known about the convoy's mission.

A car bomb also exploded near a western convoy in central Baghdad Wednesday, injuring five bystanders, Iraqi police said. The convoy continued unharmed.

The parked car detonated around 9 a.m. in the capital's Karrada neighborhood.

Less than three hours later, an official with the Ministry of Defense was gunned down in a drive-by shooting in southern Baghdad's Dora neighborhood, police said. Killed in the attack was Hassan Umran. His driver was wounded.

At about the same time, police found the bullet-riddled bodies of three men near a water purification plant in the Rustumiye section of southeastern Baghdad. Police said the bodies were dumped without identification.

Iraqi police Wednesday said a U.S. Army Humvee was seen burning along the Mohammed al-Qasim highway in eastern Baghdad. A spokeswoman with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division said three U.S. soldiers were wounded when their convoy was hit by an improvised explosive device. At least one of the injured was in critical condition and medevaced to a field hospital.

Around midday, a top officer with Iraqi police commandos was killed after gunmen fired on his convoy in western Baghdad.

According to Baghdad police, Col. Imad Ismail Thyab was shot and killed in the Ghazaliya neighborhood when the attackers in two cars opened fire. Three other police commandos were wounded in the attack.

Amid the carnage Wednesday was some good news: Roy Hallums, an American hostage snatched off the Baghdad streets in November, has been rescued and freed.

The U.S. military said it freed Hallums and an Iraqi from a farmhouse south of Baghdad after getting information about their whereabouts from an Iraqi detainee.

The military said Hallums released this statement after his release: "I want to thank all of those who were involved in my rescue -- to those who continuously tracked my captors and location, and to those who physically brought me freedom today. To all of you, I will be forever grateful.

"Both of us are in good health and look forward to returning to our respective families. Thank you to all who kept me and my family in their thoughts and prayers."

Hallums' ex-wife, Susan, also told CNN of his release.

Saddam's fate

In other Iraq developments, President Jalal Talabani has said ousted leader Saddam Hussein deserved to be executed "20 times a day" for his crimes against humanity.

In an interview with Iraq's state-funded broadcaster al-Iraqiya, Talabani said Saddam had confessed he gave orders to execute thousands of Kurds in the late 1980s.

Talabani said Tuesday he had spoken to one of the Iraqi Special Tribunal judges involved in the investigation who said that "he was able to take important confessions from Saddam Hussein and he has signed these confessions and there is video and audio for these confessions."

Talabani, a high-ranking Kurdish official, said the judge told him Saddam confessed he gave orders for the executions and military operations directed against Kurds in what came to be called the Anfal campaign. He added though that Saddam was responsible for many more atrocities.

"Saddam Hussein is a war criminal and he deserves to be executed 20 times a day for his crimes against humanity," The Associated Press reported Talabani as saying.

He added that Saddam had tried to assassinate him at least 20 times.

Talabani has previously gone on record opposing the use of a death penalty even though he indicated there was plenty of evidence to warrant it in Saddam's case.

Abdel Haq Alani, Saddam's family's legal consultant, said he believed Talabani was trying to prejudice the trial.

"Let's not have a trial on TV. Let the court of law, not the media, make its ruling on this," Alani told AP.

Alani, criticized Talabani's remarks and said the alleged confession "comes to me as a surprise, a big surprise."

"I have heard nothing whatsoever about this alleged media speculation," Alani said from Amman, Jordan. "This is a matter for the judiciary to decide on, not for politicians, and Jalal should know better than that."

But in his interview Talabani refuted charges the current government was exerting political pressure to expedite the trial, saying: "The Iraqi judiciary will sentence Saddam with what it sees suitable. There is no political order."

On Sunday a spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said the first trial of Saddam would begin on October 19.

Along with others, Saddam is charged in connection with a series of 1982 detentions and executions following an assassination attempt against him.

Saddam has been in custody since December 2003, when he was captured by U.S. troops.

The 1982 charges are the first of several Saddam is expected to face.

He appeared last year before an Iraqi tribunal to hear a list of preliminary charges against him, including the 1990 invasion of Kuwait; the 1986-88 Anfal campaign against the Kurdish minority in northern Iraq; the 1988 chemical attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja during that campaign; and the suppression of the 1991 revolts by Iraq's Kurdish and Shia populations.

Stampede victims

On Wednesday, Talabani observed a moment of silence in honor of the victims of a stampede that claimed 965 victims during a midday Shiite religious procession last week.

The moment of silence, which was shown on Iraqi TV, was observed at noon local time (0800 GMT) on Wednesday. Citizens were also shown in the streets of Baghdad marking the observance.

This is the second time Iraqis have observed an official minute of silence to commemorate victims of violence, Talabani's office said. The first came a few months ago, when 30 children were killed by a car bomb targeting a military convoy that was distributing treats.

The pilgrims drowned and were trampled August 31, and 465 people were injured in the stampede.

CNN's Arwa Damon and Enes Dulami contributed to this story.

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