Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Saturday, January 03, 2004

Insurgents shoot down helicopter, US troops swoop on suspects

Anti-American guerillas shot down a US military helicopter in western Iraq on Friday as the US troops continued their intensified search for suspected insurgents.


Anti-American guerillas shot down a US military helicopter in western Iraq on Friday as the US troops continued their intensified search for suspected insurgents.

One US soldier was killed and another wounded when the OH-58 Kiowa reconnaissance helicopter crashed in Fallujah, 50 km west of Baghdad, around midday, said the US military.

The latest death brought to 328 the number of US soldiers killed by hostile fire since the US-led coalition forces launched the war on Iraq last March.

The 82nd Airborne Division troops deployed in central Iraq "are fairly convinced it was enemy fire" that brought down the plane, US senior spokesman Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said, without identifying the type of weapons used.

A group of five individuals dressed up as journalists arrived at the crash site and started to fire rocket-propelled grenades at the troops guarding at the scene, Kimmitt said, adding that four of the gunmen had been chased and arrested.

It appeared to be the first time that attackers disguised themselves as press when waging offensives, according to the general.

Fallujah was the scene of the crash of a Chinook helicopter on Nov. 2, resulting in death of 16 soldiers, and an OH-58 Delta Kiowa on Dec. 9 which injured two US crew members.

Insurgents equipped with rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) and anti-aircraft missiles have forced down at least five US military helicopters across the country in the past two months.

Also on Friday, US forces raided a Sunni Muslim mosque in southwestern Baghdad, finding a large weapons cache and detaining 32 personnel suspected of links to anti-coalition activities.

Mortar rounds, RPG launchers, rifles, improvised grenades, bomb-making equipment and gunpowder were among the confiscated munitions, Kimmitt told reporters at a press conference.

He said the US 1st Armored Division made the cordon and search based on tip-offs received in recent months pointing to the mosque "was being used for criminal and terrorist activities."

He said the weapons found and "additional items of intelligence value" were evidence that the mosque had been used by insurgents as meeting location and weapons cache.

A group of several hundred angry Iraqis gathered outside the mosque after the Friday noon prayers in protest of the US soldiers'violation of the Qoran, or Muslim holy book, during the search.

Kimmitt said the forces "are aware of the allegation that coalition forces tore pages from the Qoran," but assured that "the greatest possible care was taken" to respect the sanctity of the mosque.

US army said on Friday that it has captured Abu Mohammed, a key facilitator believed to be responsible for "moving foreign fighters and large sums of cash throughout the area of operations."

The captive was arrested at Rutbah, 350 km west of Baghdad, on Thursday. The detention led to the capture of three other individuals at a "suspected foreign fighter transit point," said the military.

US troops on Thursday also detained ten Muslim fundamentalists in Baquba, 60 km northeast of Baghdad.

Arab televisions said 24 Iraqis, including nine most wanted figures, were also captured in Baquba, a restive town where US bases were frequently targeted.

Late Friday, fierce bombardment and cannon fire could be heard in southern Baghdad, as the US military was apparently conducting the 10-day-old Operation Iron Grip aiming at rooting out rebellion in the capital city. 

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