In Iraq, suicide bombers wearing explosive vests blew themselves up at Iraq's largest police training center in east Baghdad. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu visited the site of the attack and reports that at least 36 people, including five women, were killed and dozens seriously wounded in two separate blasts.
American and Iraqi investigators searched for clues among dozens of mangled and torn bodies to determine the identity of the suicide bombers, who carried out the coordinated attacks at the Baghdad Police Academy compound.
An eyewitness at the scene, who declined to be identified for security reasons, says at midday he heard a blast outside, near some of the classrooms in an open area of the well-guarded compound.
The man says, at that point, he did not realize that a suicide bomber had detonated amid a crowd of students and police. At least 19 bodies of men and women, some torn into pieces, lay in a wide circle around the area of the blast.
The eyewitness says after the first explosion, he saw a group of eight or nine people running into a make-shift concrete bunker nearby because they thought the school was being attacked by mortars. The witness says he then saw a man casually walk into the bunker. Seconds later, a second explosion partially collapsed the structure and sent body parts flying across the compound.
Pointing at a blood-stained wall 150 meters away from the bunker, U.S. Army Captain Jeffrey Withers says both bombers packed a significant amount of explosives and ball-bearings into their vests to kill as many people as possible.
"One of the bodies was blown off that wall and the top torso is back there on the pile of dirt," said Jeffrey Withers. "How they gained access is really unknown."
The attack was the deadliest against Iraqi security forces since February 28, when a suicide car bomber killed 125 mostly Shi'ite Muslim police and army recruits in Hillah, south of Baghdad.
The Muslim extremist group al-Qaida in Iraq, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, immediately claimed responsibility for Tuesday's attack. In a statement posted on an Internet website, al-Qaida said it targeted the police academy because it continued to train Shi'ites Muslims, who al-Qaida says "feed off the blood and honor of Sunni Muslims."
Sectarian tension has been escalating between Iraqi Sunnis and Shi'ites amid allegations that Shi'ite militias working within the Ministry of Interior are kidnapping, torturing, and killing Sunnis in retribution for decades of oppression under Sunni Arab rule.
Meanwhile, the Arabic-language television channel, al-Jazeera, has broadcast a video showing an Iraqi insurgent group, the Islamic Army in Iraq, allegedly holding an American security consultant captive.
If true, the man would be the second American taken hostage in Iraq by Sunni insurgents in the past two weeks. An American Christian peace activist and his three Western colleagues were kidnapped November 27 by a group calling itself the Sword of Righteousness Brigade.
The group has threatened to kill the men unless all Iraqi prisoners were freed from U.S. and Iraqi detention centers by Thursday.