Suicide bomber kills eight, then Spanish agent is assassinated

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The Independent Online

Gunmen shot dead a Spanish intelligence agent in Iraq yesterday as he fled from his home in Baghdad in bare feet and underpants.

In a separate incident in the Iraqi capital, eight people were killed and 45 injured after a suicide bomber set off a car bomb outside a police station. Both attacks were the latest in a series that have undermined US efforts to stabilise the country and raised questions about the viability of the ongoing occupation.

Jose Antonio Bernal was a military attaché to Spain's embassy in Iraq and a member of Spain's intelligence agency, the National Intelligence Centre.

At least three men pulled up outside his house in a brown Opel early yesterday morning, and a man dressed in the black turban of a Shia Muslim knocked on Sergeant Bernal's front door. The diplomat opened the door himself, in his underwear, and "pushed past the cleric and ran down the street to the left" according to a mechanic who saw what happened.

A school security guard on the same street said the men had drawn pistols and chased Sgt Bernal for nearly 50 yards. "They chased him down the road firing their pistols at him all the time. One bullet struck him in the neck and he collapsed and died on the street. The three men jumped back into the car and sped away," the guard said.

Sgt Bernal, 34, had lived in Baghdad for more than two years - one of two Spanish diplomats who had remained in post throughout the war. He was married with a young daughter but his family had returned to Spain some months ago.

"This was the first terrorist act against a Spanish citizen," said Ramon Gil-Casares, Spain's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs after the attack. "We don't know why he opened the door, whether it was because he knew some of them. He was a professional in security matters, and we don't know why he opened the door with that kind of training". The separate bomb attack took place in the Shia slum known as Sadr City - formerly Saddam City - in the north-east of Baghdad and was carried out as about 50 police officers had gathered outside the compound to collect their pay.

Witnesses said that a white Oldsmobile car sped towards the compound and that, despite the efforts of officers who opened fire on it, crashed into a parked vehicle and exploded.

"I ran and got hit in the leg. When I looked back, all I could see was fire," one of the injured officers, Khalid Sattar Jabar, told reporters as he lay in his hospital bed. He said he got a look at the driver and described a man with a beard and a thick head of hair.

Inside the station, a police sergeant who suffered leg wounds, Saad Drawal al-Dharaji, said a local imam had threatened to take action against the police station unless it turned over some policemen for "punishment" for having served under Saddam. The policeman said he was told by the imam: "We will have our revenge for this."

A nearby mosque blared warnings for people to leave the area for fear of a second booby-trapped car. "It was a huge blast and everything became dark from the debris and sand. I was thrown to the ground," said Mohammed Adnan, 35, a watermelon seller. In the aftermath of the attack the area around the compound was a scene of devastation, with mangled police cars scattered around the bomb site and debris filling a large courtyard in front of the one-storey police building.

Sgt Bernal is Spain's second casualty in Iraq since the US-led invasion force toppled Saddam Hussein. Navy Captain Manuel Martin-Oar died of injuries received in the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad in August. Capt Martin-Oar was responsible for co-ordinating humanitarian aid, and was a link between aid organisations and the UN.

Jose Maria Aznar's conservative government has supported President Bush's war effort, despite massive opposition among Spaniards, and has sent some 1,300 Spanish troops for peacekeeping duties.

But Mr Gil-Casares said there was no clear motive for the attack on Sgt Bernal. "We don't know yet if they went for him because they knew him personally or if it was because he was a member of the Spanish embassy or simply because he was a Westerner and they knew where he lived," he said.

Last September, following the bomb attack on the UN, Mr Gil-Casares said that the Spanish embassy in Baghdad had hired Iraqis to strengthen security for diplomats. But Sgt Bernal had no security guard in his home, and the Baghdad correspondent for Madrid's El Pais newspaper, Angeles Espinosa, confirmed that the diplomat was never accompanied by a bodyguard.

SIX MONTHS OF 'PEACE'

9 April Saddam statue toppled as US troops enter Baghdad.

11 April US issues "deck of cards" for 55 most-wanted members of Saddam regime.

24 April Tariq Aziz, the former deputy prime minister, gives himself up. Weapons experts surrender in the following days.

1 May President George Bush says the conflict is over.

7 May First tape purportedly by Saddam calls for resistance.

22 May UN Security Council recognises US-led administration and lifts 13-year sanctions.

15 June Operation Scorpion is launched in an attempt to defeat the organised resistance.

24 June Six British military police are killed north of Basra.

22 July Saddam's sons Uday and Qusay are killed in a shootout in Mosul.

13 July US-appointed Iraq Governing Council meets.

17 July US combat deaths reach 147, the same number who died in hostile fire in the 1991 Gulf War.

7 August Bomb attack on Jordanian embassy kills at least 17 and injures at least 20.

19 August UN representative Sergio Vieira de Mello and 21 others killed by car bomb at UN headquarters in Baghdad.

21 August Saddam's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali", is captured.

29 August Car bomb in Najaf kills 125 people including Shia leader Ayatollah Bakr al-Hakim.

17 September Former chief UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix, says the Iraqi regime probably did destroy most of its weapons of mass destruction in 1991.

24 September Female member of Iraq Governing Council, Aquila al-Hashimi, shot dead. She is the first member of the IGC to be assassinated.

9 October Suicide bomber crashes into police station in Baghdad's Shia Muslim district of Sadr City, killing 10 including the bomber and injuring 45. Spanish military attache is shot dead at home in Mansur residential district.

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