November 30, 2008
Contact:
Anna Christopher, NPR Media Relations


   

FROM: Loren Jenkins, Foreign Editor, NPR News
TO: U.S. and Foreign News Media
SUBJECT: November 30th Attack on NPR Reporting Team in Baghdad

NPR is deeply grateful to the swift actions by Iraqi authorities today in Western Baghdad that prevented its American and Iraqi reporting team there from being injured in a bomb attack on their armored vehicle.

The timely receipt of information from an informant to the Iraqi authorities allowed them to warn the NPR team away from the vehicle after an unknown person or persons had placed a "sticky bomb," an explosive device that has been used in numerous vehicle attacks in Iraq over the past year, beneath the driver's side of the armored BMW, which had been parked in Rabiye Street while the reporting team conducted interviews in a nearby shop. The vehicle exploded in flames seconds later.

Iraqi authorities have detained a person in connection with their investigation of the attack.

Despite Sunday's attack, and the continued danger and difficulty of reporting from Iraq, even as the violence levels there fall, NPR remains committed to full and complete coverage of this important story. We would like to thank not only the correspondents, producers and reporters who staff NPR's Baghdad Bureau under trying and challenging conditions, but to express our deep gratitude and admiration for our courageous Iraqi colleagues who make this important coverage possible.

Correspondent Ivan Watson's report on today's attack appears below. Photos and video may be viewed at www.npr.org




NPR Journalists' Car Bombed
November 30, 2008
By Ivan Watson, NPR News Foreign Correspondent



An NPR correspondent and three members of NPR's Iraqi staff narrowly survived an apparent assassination attempt in Baghdad on Sunday, after a hidden "sticky" bomb exploded underneath their parked, armored BMW.

The car exploded in a pillar of flame and was totally destroyed. No one was injured in the attack.

The bombing took place during a brief NPR reporting trip to western Baghdad's battle-scarred Rabiye Street.

Rabiye Street was once a bustling commercial boulevard, where boutiques and popular cafes faced the gardens of a grassy median. At the height of the fighting in 2005, 2006 and 2007, this district was the scene of intense clashes and bloody massacres involving insurgents from al-Qaida in Iraq. Today, many storefronts are still blasted, burned and empty from multiple car bombs and roadside bomb attacks. Iraqi police and soldiers man checkpoints at several points along the street.

NPR correspondent Ivan Watson, Iraqi producer and translator Ali Hamdani, and two Iraqi drivers who do not want to be named for security reasons, had stopped to conduct interviews in a kebab shop, just a few yards from an Iraqi army checkpoint.

They spent about 45 minutes there, eating lunch and conducting interviews with the shop's two owners. The armored BMW and a second NPR "chase car," were parked in the street out front.

At the end of the meal, the NPR team was headed back to its vehicles, but stopped for a moment, when kebab shop owner Athir Abdul El Mawjood began showing the bullet holes that still pockmark the front of his business.

Suddenly, Iraqi soldiers ran up screaming "bomb" in Arabic and pointing at the parked BMW. They blocked oncoming traffic, and an Iraqi officer named Lt. Mohammad Fawzi physically pulled one of NPR's drivers away from the parked car.

Seconds later, the BMW exploded and burst into flames some 15 feet from the NPR journalists.

The bomb appeared to have been one of the so-called "sticky bombs" that insurgents have increasingly used to lethal effect in Baghdad over the past year. The bombers use magnets to attach the explosives to the underside of parked vehicles.

The device was placed underneath the driver's side of the vehicle. The force of the blast blew out the vehicle's armored floor plates. There was no sign of the steering wheel. Looking at the twisted wreckage of the interior, it is hard to imagine how any passengers seated inside could have survived the attack.

Either because of the makeup of the bomb, or because of the solidity of the armored vehicle, the explosion did not hurl any shrapnel into the crowd standing nearby. In fact, the blast did not even damage several cartons of eggs lying on a street vendor's table on the sidewalk just 6 feet from the BMW.

Iraqi and American soldiers cordoned off the area.

An Iraqi army officer later explained that an informant had called in with a tip about the explosive device, just minutes before the blast. He said he arrested one suspect one of the egg vendors from the shop next to the parked BMW. The Iraqi officer said the suspect had been under surveillance for some time due to his alleged familial ties to a member of al-Qaida in Iraq.

American and Iraqi officers on the scene said the bomb was possibly detonated by remote control.

Fawzi watched as Iraqi firefighters hosed down the smoking wreckage.

"I was just doing my duty," he said, when thanked for his swift action, which may have saved the lives of the NPR staff.