Attackers wounded by own grenades in theft attempt

8 Jun 2003 | Capt. Thomas Klysa

Marines responded to calls for help on June 8 after criminals trying to steal cooking gas threw concussion grenades at a city mosque.

Marines were ushered to the scene at the Habib Al Mustafa Mosque, where five suspects were wounded by their own grenades.

"It is you, the Americans, who have respected the holiness of this mosque, not those bad men, and for that we greatly respect you," Mohammed Zaid, caretaker of the mosque, said though a translator.

The attack was linked to an attempt to steal liquid petroleum gas, or cooking gas, from Bashir Abid Zaid, the caretaker's son, who distributes cooking gas in the neighborhood.

Rafid Naji, 25, told Marines that the thugs arrived just after 1 p.m.   "I remember first seeing their rifles pointing through the opening in the wall."

The elder Zaid used the minaret, the tower and loudspeaker system, used to call faithful muslins to prayer, to issue a general warning to residents to stay away from the mosque. At the same time, Naji and some of the worshipers went outside to confront the thugs.

"It appeared that some of them were drunk or on drugs," one of the witnesses told a Marine at the scene.

The attackers immediately beat Naji, crushing his windpipe and cutting his arms and legs.  The Marines later took him to a local hospital.

Concussion grenades are considered non-lethal weapons, according to Marine Capt. Thomas G. Citrano.  It is uncertain if the attackers knew the difference between lethal and non-lethal grenades.

"Their injuries and the craters (at the site) are consistent with a concussion grenade," according to Citrano. The men accused of the attack later that afternoon under Iraqi guard at Al Hillah's main hospital, he said.

Bashir said he is acquainted with the men that threatened him.

"They are residents of the quarter, and I know of them," he said.

Marines searched within and around the walled compound of the mosque for explosives.   Nothing was found.

Zaid had faced problems before with people trying to steal his cooking gas. June 7, he went to pick up 216 cylinders for himself and his neighbors.

"The (attackers) approached me at the station and demanded that I hand over some of the bottles," Bashir said.  "I gave them six to make them go away.  They wanted more, and when I refused they threatened to kill me."