Troops hurt in bombing blamed on abuse pictures

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The Independent Online

A bomb attack at a British base in Iraq, which injured nine soldiers, was in revenge for the alleged abuse of prisoners by British troops, Islamist insurgents said yesterday.

A group led by the Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi declared it had carried out the suicide bombing "in response to the harm inflicted by British occupation forces on our brothers in prison". It vowed to continue the "holy war" against British forces in Iraq.

The attack at Shaibah camp, 20 miles south of Basra, also injured a number of Iraqi civilians. It came within hours of another militant group claiming it had kidnapped and decapitated a Briton and a Swedish colleague, and a day after a British security worker, Andrew Whyte, was killed.

There had been increasing trepidation that photos showing Iraqi prisoners being abused and sexually humiliated, which have emerged from a court martial, will lead to retribution against British troops and other British nationals in Iraq.

The injured soldiers were from the 2nd Battalion, The Princess of Wales' Royal Regiment. One is said to be seriously injured and had been airlifted to a US medical facility in Kuwait. Others were being treated at a military hospital in Shaibah.

Suicide bomb attacks have been virtually unheard of in the British-controlled Shia south of Iraq, although they are a common weapon used by Sunni groups such as Zarqawi's.

The blast also raised questions about security in the British-controlled area in the tense run-up to Iraq's national elections at the end of the month. The Shia population is expected to vote in large numbers, but Sunni militants have threatened to unleash waves of bombings and shooting to disrupt the polls.

More than a thousand troops, including a Danish contingent, are based at the sprawling camp which had come under rocket and mortar fire in the past.

The Stop the War Coalition said: "We certainly believe that the photographs will put the lives of British soldiers at greater risk and will lead to an increase in attacks in and around Basra." Rose Gentle, whose 19-year-old son, Gordon, died in a roadside bomb attack in Basra last June, added: "The photographs will make it worse, it is going to make the soldiers even more of a target."

The kidnapping and murder of the Briton, along with a Swedish colleague, was announced on the internet by the militant group Ansar al-Sunnah. It said: "We in Ansar al-Sunnah managed, thanks be to God, to get the heads of the enemy crusader infidels and those co-operating with them. The lions of faith managed to set a trap and kidnap two agents ­ one British and one Swedish ... and we executed God's punishment by killing them."

Mr Whyte, a 54-year-old former soldier from Dundee, was killed while working at a power station south of Baiji.