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Ammunition Dump Explosions Rock Baghdad - 2003-04-26

A series of massive explosions at an ammunition dump in Baghdad has killed and injured dozens of people in a residential area.

American soldiers based near the dump said the initial blast could be felt nearly eight kilometers away.

Sergeant Major Gary Coker of the 3rd Infantry Division's 11th Engineers said the blast blew out the windows in the building where his headquarters is located, on the far side of the sprawling Rashid base, now used by the U.S. military. Military sources say they believe someone fired flares into an arms stockpile left by the Iraqis, but also including weapons and explosives recovered from Iraqi forces.

Explosions continued for nearly an hour, as flames spread through the weapons dump. Some homes nearby were destroyed and others were badly damaged.

It is expected that the death toll will mount, as rescuers sift through the rubble of homes that were flattened by the blasts.

The U.S. military sealed off the area, but a steady stream of ambulances carried victims away to hospital.

Some residents accused the Americans of deliberately firing into the civilian neighborhood. One group threw stones, and fired at U.S. soldiers trying to treat the injured.

Coalition troops have been struggling to bring security to the Iraqi capital since Saddam Hussein's regime collapsed earlier this month. They also have been trying to round up senior figures from the former government.

U.S. officials say the former Iraqi intelligence chief, a man with possible links to the al-Qaida terrorist organization, was taken into custody Friday. U.S. authorities said Farouk Hijazi was captured near the Syrian border, hours after former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz surrendered to U.S. officials. Farouk Hijazi was a top-ranking Iraqi intelligence agent when Iraqi operatives tried to kill the first President Bush 10 years ago in Kuwait. He is also believed to have met with Osama bin Laden in 1998.