Suicide bomber kills five in attack on Baghdad restaurant

Robert Fisk@indyvoices
Thursday 01 January 2004 01:00

A suicide bomber drove a vehicle packed with explosives into a restaurant crowded with Iraqi Christians in Baghdad last night, killing five people.

At least 50 people were inside Nabil's Restaurant in the Arasat district of the city for a party on New Year's Eve, and at least 35 were injured.

The owner of the restaurant was once dressmaker to Uday Hussein - the elder son of Saddam who was killed by American troops last summer - but his close relations to the former ruler's family were clearly no protection for him last night.

At least four cars were burning fiercely in the street as guests and waiters, covered in blood, ran outside. The occupation authorities had warned of bombings over the new year, but many Iraqis had unwisely convinced themselves that such attacks would be confined only to Western troops.

They were wrong. Nabil's Restaurant served alcohol and for several days had hosted parties of mainly Christian Iraqis who were celebrating their first New Year free of Saddam's regime. Only three days ago I had dinner at the same restaurant as Christian families celebrated with dancing and live music. But the manager and waiters were obviously nervous, repeatedly leaving the restaurant to check for suspicious cars outside. Last night, their concern was clearly not sufficient to save them.

"I heard the explosion first and then the windows came in and we could see nothing more," the head waiter said in the street, blood flowing from a wound on his forehead. "We never expected this." But of course everyone in Baghdad expects the worst - especially on public holidays. Just across the road from Nabil's stands the Ighe Hotel which was itself bombed only three months ago when a crew from the American NBC television network was staying there. On that occasion, a Sudanese guard was killed and part of the building seriously damaged. Last night's car bomb blasted in the same building at precisely the same location, its facade eerily illuminated by the fires from the burning cars outside.

US troops entered the wreckage of the restaurant to search for bodies within 10 minutes of the bombing and could be seen crawling beneath tables in the hope of finding more survivors.

The US pro-consul Paul Bremer - and his predecessor Jay Garner - used to dine out regularly at Nabil's, which was also a meeting place for American special forces officers when they wished to cut deals with local tribesmen from cities west of Baghdad. But most Westerners, including Mr Bremer, long ago ceased to eat out, believing the risks were too great. They were right.

In Indonesia, nine people were killed and 46 injured when a bomb blew up in a crowded night market in Aceh province last night. Aceh has been battered by years of fighting between separatist guerrillas and government forces, although it was not immediately clear whether the bomb attack, in Pereulak, was related to the conflict.

Festivities also took a deadly turn in the Philippines' city of Lucena when fireworks sparked a fire in an old public market and killed 18 people.

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