FBI suspects security guards had role in UN bombing

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FBI investigators trying to track down who was behind Tuesday's suicide bombing at the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad are concentrating their inquiries on the UN's Iraqi security guards, reports said yesterday. The FBI suspects the bombing may have been an inside job, unnamed "US officials" were quoted as saying.

But amid recriminations over the security failings that led to the bombing, the UN described American suspicions as "speculation". A UN spokesman told The New York Times: "All of us are trying to get to the bottom of this ... But it is not made easier by the conspiracy theories circulating. We'll have to separate as best we can fact from speculation."

There are signs of tension between the Americans and the UN over who was to blame for the bombing, in which at least 23 people died. The Americans have focused on the light security at the UN's headquarters in the Canal Hotel, while many in the UN say the fault lies with American soldiers failing to provide security within Iraq as a whole.

The suspicion surrounding the security guards appears to have been prompted at first by the fact that the Kamaz truck packed with 1,000lb (about 450kg) of explosives was detonated beneath the third-floor window of the office of Sergio Vieira de Mello, the UN envoy who died in the blast. Investigators believe Mr Vieira de Mello may have been the main target and suspect someone involved in the bombing had inside knowledge of the UN.

More damaging was the fact that two of the guards refused to co-operate with investigators, claiming diplomatic immunity, The New York Times reported yesterday. While UN staff are usually entitled to immunity from prosecution by local authorities, the US is insisting that this does not usually extend to locally employed security guards.

The UN chose to retain the security guards who worked at the building under Saddam Hussein's regime, say the Americans, who also claim the guards had close links with the intelligence service while Saddam was still in power, and reported on the UN's activities. They could still be linked to Iraq's many resistance groups that support the former dictator, it is said. The FBI is now looking into whether any security guards failed to report for work on Tuesday.

A seven-foot wall the UN was building to secure the Canal Hotel was too close to the building, the Americans say. Most buildings housing Westerners in Baghdad are poorly guarded, except for American military bases and the buildings for the occupation administration, which are behind high concrete walls, gun emplacements, tanks and razor wire.

But the UN says it simply cannot do its job behind that sort of security. "The presence of coalition forces would intimidate some of the people we need to speak to and work with," said Ramiro Lopes da Silva, who has taken over from Mr Vieira de Mello. "We will always be a soft target. We are conscious of that, but that is the way we operate."

Observers say the fault lies not with the UN's failure to surround itself with barbed wire, but with the American failure to bring any sort of law and order to Iraq. In London or Washington, they say, security comes by policing the whole city, not by hiding behind sandbags, and Baghdad under the Americans is a city where it is relatively easy to get hold of high-grade explosives and to drive through the city to a suicide bombing.

American patrols come under daily attack with rocket-propelled grenades and remote-control bombs as soon as they leave their heavily guarded compounds. Yesterday, one American soldier was shot dead in Hilla, south of Baghdad, by a gunman who walked up as his car stood in traffic, fired at close range and then escaped into a crowded market.

Meanwhile, the search for bodies continues at the Canal Hotel. Two UN staff are missing and rescuers are appealing for help to determine who else might have been in the building when it was bombed, as visitors were not recorded. One Iraqi survivor was searching for his wife yesterday. Someone told him they saw her get out alive, but he could not find her in any of Baghdad's hospitals.