Baghdad Cash Caper Busted

U.S. Special Forces make an arrest of a suspected bank robber they claim was using a torch to try and cut into a bank vault inside the gutted interior of an bank in Baghdad Thursday April 17, 2003.
A riot broke out at a Baghdad bank Thursday after thieves blew a hole in the vault and dropped children in to bring out fistfuls of cash. U.S. troops arrested the thieves and removed $4 million in U.S. dollars for safekeeping.

Hundreds of people converged on the bank once the thieves blew the vault open, demanding that the thieves give them the money.

Guns were fired, and a U.S. Army unit arrived, arresting a dozen men and youths inside the bank while many in the crowd chanted their approval. The U.S. soldiers recovered about $4 million in U.S. currency, which they took away in burlap bags for safekeeping.

Separately, U.S. special forces captured a half brother of Saddam Hussein who, according to one American commander, has "extensive knowledge" of the toppled regime's inner workings.

Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, in a briefing at U.S. Central Command, said Barzan Ibrahim Hasan, a top adviser to Saddam as well as his half brother, was captured alone in Baghdad. No casualties were sustained by the special forces or the U.S. Marines who provided support.

Brooks declined to give details about the operation, but said it resulted from information provided by Iraqis.

Barzan Hasan was head of Iraq's secret police, the Mukhabarat, and later served as Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations agencies based in Geneva, Switzerland, where he reportedly ran Iraq's intelligence operations in Europe.

Another of Saddam's three half brothers, Watban Ibrahim Hasan, was captured previously; he once served as Iraq's interior minister. Both are considered likely to have information about any weapons of mass destruction developed by Saddam's regime. The third half brother, Sab'awi Ibrahim Hasan, reportedly took refuge in Syria.

In other developments:

  • With the air campaign winding down and the Saddam regime toppled, the USS Constellation — on its final overseas mission before going into retirement — left the Gulf on Thursday. One day earlier, the carrier USS Kitty Hawk departed for its homeport in Yokosuka, Japan.
  • Secretary of State Colin Powell says he's going to Syria for talks. Powell says Syria, a wartime ally of Iraq, should expel Iraqi officials who managed to escape across the border.
  • The government awarded a big contract to evaluate and repair Iraq's power, water and sewage systems to Bechtel Corp. of San Francisco. The initial award was for $34.6 million, although the contract could be worth up to $680 million over 18 months.
  • The U.S. military said Wednesday that 125 U.S. service members have died and three are missing. The British government says 31 British soldiers have died.
  • President Bush urged the United Nations to lift sanctions that have choked Iraq's economy for nearly 13 years.
  • The European Union, at a summit Thursday in Greece, said the U.N. must play a central role in rebuilding Iraq.
  • The U.S. is airlifting American currency to Iraq to pay Iraqi workers and discourage looting. The FBI is joining the hunt to recover priceless treasures stolen from Iraq's museums.
  • Some looters emptying Iraq's museums of centuries-old treasures were possibly professional thieves who used keys to enter locked safes and vaults, experts said Thursday.

    A gathering of 30 art experts and cultural historians in Paris said that while much of the looting in Iraq was haphazard, some of the thieves clearly knew what they wanted and where to find it — suggesting they were prepared professionals.

    "It looks as if part of the looting was a deliberate planned action," said McGuire Gibson, a University of Chicago professor and president of the American Association for Research in Baghdad. "They were able to take keys for vaults and were able to take out important Mesopotamian materials put in safes."

    Elsewhere in Baghdad, U.S. troops and Iraqi police broadened efforts to restore law and order. A Marine unit went on an overnight patrol in one of the capital's roughest neighborhoods and exchanged fire at one point with suspected looters, one of whom died of his wounds Thursday.

    The top war commander, Gen. Tommy Franks, said 2,200 civilians in Baghdad have volunteered to serve as police officers.

    "The looting goes down every day and I think you will continue to see it go down because the Iraqis are now stepping up and controlling the problems for themselves," Franks said while visiting Kuwait City, the main center coordinating humanitarian assistance for Iraq.

    In three cities in northern Iraq, including Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, gunbattles and ethnic feuding were complicating reconstruction efforts.

    U.S. officials said members of Saddam's clan in Tikrit twice attacked people from outlying villages coming to warehouses in search of food. Each time Marines intervened to disarm the attackers and separate the sides, said Lt. Col. Freddie Blish of Marine Wing Support Group 37.

    In Mosul, the largest city in the north, U.S. commanders tried to ease anti-American anger after two days of confrontations involving U.S. Marines. Local hospital officials said 14 people died Tuesday, while three more were shot dead Wednesday.

    The U.S. Central Command said a gunbattle Tuesday killed about seven Iraqis, some of whom were trying to storm a U.S. position.

    Brooks said the violence Wednesday involved an exchange of fire between Marines and some suspected bank robbers. But residents said some of those hit by bullets were doing no wrong, including a police officer trying to maintain order.

    "They are killing us and no one's talking about it," Zahra Yassin said at a hospital with her wounded son. "We want Saddam back. At least there was security."

    In Kirkuk, the second-largest city in the north, Arab families complained that they have been forced out their homes by a group of Kurds claiming ownership in the largely Kurdish city.

    The new Kurdish occupants took over in the confusion immediately after the April 10 collapse of Saddam's authority in Kirkuk. They claim the land was theirs before Saddam evicted them in the 1980s, but Arabs claim the Kurds have been taking the law into their own hands.

    "If this humiliation against us continues, we are going to defend our properties and our homes ourselves," said Seyed Aqel Musawi, a civic leader in one of the Arab neighborhoods where homes have been seized.