Canal Hotel bombing
|Canal Hotel Bombing|
|Date||August 19, 2003
16:28 – (GMT +3)
|Target||United Nations headquarters|
|Deaths||22 plus a suicide bomber|
|Perpetrators||claimed by Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad|
The Canal Hotel Bombing in Baghdad, Iraq, in the afternoon of August 19, 2003, killed at least 22 people, including the United Nations' Special Representative in Iraq Sérgio Vieira de Mello, and wounded over 100. The blast targeted the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq created just 5 days earlier. (The United Nations had used the hotel as its headquarters in Iraq since the early 1990s.) That 19 August bombing resulted in the withdrawal within weeks of most of the 600 UN staff members from Iraq. These events were to have a profound and lasting impact on the UN's security practices globally.
The attack was followed by a suicide car bomb attack on 22 September 2003 near U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, killing a security guard and wounding 19 people.
In his book The Prince of the Marshes, British writer Rory Stewart recounts his experiences at the Canal Hotel the day of the bombing.
I had wandered past the security point without anyone attempting to search me or ask my business. The Iraqis coming in and out of the compound were good-humored. I had said to my friend that things seemed pretty relaxed. She had replied that the special representative was proud that Iraqis could approach the UN building – unlike in the Green Zone, whose barriers were a half mile from the main offices.
... I went to the canteen, where I sat from ten until two in the afternoon, talking to local NGO staff who came in to eat and use the Internet. I particularly liked a Tunisian security advisor who had served in the Balkans and was worried about terrorists targeting the UN.
I left at two, intending to return later in the afternoon to use the Internet. But when I came back at 4:30, a thick column of smoke was rising from either end of the building, families were screaming and pushing at a cordon of U.S. soldiers, and the woman who had served me my salad in the cafeteria was running toward us. In my brief time away from the building, a suicide bomber had driven his truck up beneath De Mello's office window.
The explosion occurred while Martin Barber, director of the UN's Mine Action Service (UNMAS), was holding a press conference. The explosion damaged a spinal cord treatment center at the hospital next door and a U.S. Army Civil-Military Operations Centre located at the rear of the Canal Hotel, and the resulting shockwave was felt over a mile away.
The blast was caused by a suicide bomber driving a truck bomb. The vehicle has been identified as a large 2002 flatbed Kamaz (manufactured in Eastern Europe and part of the former Iraqi establishment's fleet). Investigators in Iraq suspected the bomb was made from old munitions, including a single 500-pound aerial bomb, from Iraq's pre-war arsenal.
The OCHA Humanitarian Information Centre (HIC) for Iraq (UNOHCI) was located directly beneath the office of Sérgio Vieira de Mello, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and suffered a direct hit. Of the eight staff and one visitor in the office at the time, seven were killed instantly, but Sérgio Vieira de Mello and Gil Loescher were critically wounded and trapped in debris under the collapsed portion of the building. An American soldier – First Sergeant William von Zehle – crawled down through the collapsed building and worked to extricate the two men. He was joined later by another American soldier – Staff Sergeant Andre Valentine – and the two men spent the next three hours trying to extricate the two survivors without benefit of any rescue equipment. Loescher was rescued after having his crushed legs amputated by the soldiers, but Vieira de Mello died before he would have been able to have been removed.
According to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, de Mello was specifically targeted in the blast. The reason given by al-Zarqawi for targeting de Mello was that he had helped East Timor become an independent state (see the Indonesian occupation of East Timor). Zarqawi said that de Mello had participated in the unlawful removal of territory from the Islamic Caliphate and was therefore a thief and a criminal.
The bombing was followed on September 22, 2003, by another car bomb outside the Canal Hotel. The blast killed the bomber and an Iraqi policeman and wounded 19 others, including UN workers. The second attack led to the withdrawal of some 600 UN international staff from Baghdad, along with employees of other aid agencies. In August 2004, de Mello's replacement, Ashraf Qazi, arrived in Baghdad along with a small number of staff.
List of victims
|Sérgio Vieira de Mello||55||Brazil||Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General to Iraq|
|Nadia Younes||57||Egypt||Chief of Staff for Vieira de Mello|
|Fiona Watson||35||United Kingdom||Member of Vieira de Mello's staff, political affairs officer|
|Jean-Sélim Kanaan||33||Egypt||Member of Vieira de Mello's staff, political officer|
|Richard Hooper||40||United States||Senior advisor to the UN Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Political Affairs|
|Manuel Martín-Oar||56||Spain||Naval captain, assistant to the Spanish special ambassador to Iraq|
|Christopher Klein-Beekman||32||Canada||UN Children's Fund's program coordinator|
|Reham Al-Farra||29||Jordan||Department of Public Information, Deputy Spokesperson|
|Martha Teas||47||United States||UNOHCI Manager|
|Leen Assad Al-Qadi||32||Iraq||UNOHCI Information Assistant|
|Ranillo Buenaventura||47||Philippines||UNOHCI Secretary for Vieira de Mello|
|Reza Hosseini||43||Iran||UNOHCI Humanitarian affairs officer|
|Ihsan Taha Husein||26||Iraq||UNOHCI Driver|
|Basim Mahmoud Utaiwi||40||Iraq||UNOHCI Security guard|
|Raid Shaker Mustafa Al-Mahdawi||32||Iraq||United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC)|
|Gillian Clark||47||Canada||Christian Children's Fund|
|Arthur Helton||54||United States||Director of peace and conflict studies at the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations|
|Dr. Alya Ahmad Souza||54||Iraq||World Bank|
|Khidir Saleem Sahir||Iraq||Civilian|
|Saad Hermis Abona||45||Iraq||Working for a UN subcontractor (Canal Hotel cafeteria worker)|
|Omar Kahtan Mohamed Al-Orfali||34||Iraq||Driver/interpreter, Christian Children's Fund|
|Emaad Ahmed Salman al-Jobody||45||Iraq||Electrician|
Marilyn Manuel, a member of Vieira de Mello's staff from the Philippines, was originally listed as missing and presumed dead in the collapsed section of the building. However, she had been evacuated to an Iraqi hospital which did not notify the UN of her presence. Her survival was confirmed four days later.
We destroyed the U.N. building, the protectors of Jews, the friends of the oppressors and aggressors. The U.N. has recognized the Americans as the masters of Iraq. Before that, they gave Palestine as a gift to the Jews so they can rape the land and humiliate our people. Do not forget Bosnia, Kashmir, Afghanistan and Chechnya.
In an audiotape, published 6 April 2004 on a Web site and "probably authentic" according to CIA, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed credit for a number of attacks, including this 19 August 2003 bombing on U.N. quarters in Baghdad.
By December 2004, also The Jamestown Foundation considered Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad responsible for this attack. In February 2006, TV program FRONTLINE. presented an audio tape of Zarqawi—possibly the tape of April 2004—in which Zarqawi motivated the bombing of the UN building: U.N. = "protectors of Jews (given them Palestine so they can rape the land and humiliate our people) and friends of the (American) oppressors".
In January 2005, a top bombmaker for Zarqawi's group, Abu Omar al-Koordi, was captured by the coalition and claimed his associates made the bomb used in this attack. On December 16, 2005, Iraqi authorities issued an arrest warrant for Mullah Halgurd al-Khabir, a commander of Ansar al-Sunna, in connection with the attack.
The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera identified the suicide bomber as Algerian national Fahdal Nassim. Other suspects included Baathists, militant Sunni and Shiite groups, organized crime, and tribal elements. Blame was initially thought to lie with Ansar al-Islam, which was thought at the time to be Zarqawi's group. An otherwise unknown group called the "Armed Vanguards of the Second Mohammed Army" claimed they were responsible for the attack.
Awraz Abd Aziz Mahmoud Sa'eed, known as al-Kurdi, has confessed to helping plan the attack for Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi. Al-Kurdi was captured by U.S. forces in 2005, judged and sentenced to death by an Iraqi court and executed by hanging on July 3, 2007.
This section's factual accuracy may be compromised due to out-of-date information. (August 2011)
The suicide bombing of the United Nations in Baghdad drew overwhelming condemnation. Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General, commented that the bombing would not stop the organization's efforts to rebuild Iraq, and said: "Nothing can excuse this act of unprovoked and murderous violence against men and women who went to Iraq for one purpose only: to help the Iraqi people recover their independence and sovereignty, and to rebuild their country as fast as possible, under leaders of their own choosing."
However, since this event the UN country team's expatriates and leaders relocated in Amman (Jordan) and continued to work remotely. Only some Iraqis have continued under drastic security measures all around the country (except in Kurdistan where they are more numerous and can move more freely). Few expatriates are, 5 years later, authorized to go inside Iraq (including Kurdistan) and only inside huge security compounds such as the so-called "Green Zone" in Baghdad. Humanitarian support is now entirely conducted inside the country by NGOs, under UN remote supervision.
In 2004, Gil Loescher's daughter, documentary filmmaker Margaret Loescher, made a critically acclaimed film about her father's experiences called Pulled from the Rubble.
The World Humanitarian Day
On 11 December 2008, the United Nations General Assembly made history when it adopted the Swedish sponsored GA Resolution A/63/139 on the Strengthening of the Coordination of Emergency Assistance of the United Nations, that amongst other important humanitarian decisions, decided to designate 19 August as the World Humanitarian Day (WHD). The Resolution gives for the first time, a special recognition to all humanitarian and United Nations and associated personnel who have worked in the promotion of the humanitarian cause and those who have lost their lives in the cause of duty and urges all Member States, entities of the United Nations within existing resources, as well as the other International Organizations and Non-Governmental Organizations to observe it annually in an appropriate way. It marks the day on which the then Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello and his 21 colleagues were killed following the bombing of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad.
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- GlobalSecurity.org The Canal Hotel UN Headquarters Compound