Fallujah, Iraq — A day after a U.S. air strike destroyed six homes in this flash- point city, a senior Iraqi official said Sunday that 23 of 26 people killed in the attack were foreign terrorists, including men from Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
U.S. officials had justified the strike on Saturday, the first major military action in Fallujah since U.S. forces pulled out of the city in early May, by saying that the homes that were singled out were being used by agents of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, one of the most wanted terrorists in Iraq and the suspected mastermind of dozens of suicide attacks.
On Sunday, the Arab satellite TV network al-Jazeera aired a videotape purportedly from al-Zarqawi-led militants showing a South Korean hostage begging for his life and pleading with his government to withdraw troops from Iraq.
In Fallujah on Saturday, people pulling bodies out of the debris had said women and children were among the victims. An Iraqi official acknowledged that three Iraqis were among those killed and that two Iraqis were wounded, but did not provide further details.
He said it was not clear whether al-Zarqawi was inside the small concrete- block homes when they were smashed to rubble by three 500-pound bombs dropped from a U.S. warplane. But he said U.S. intelligence was accurate and that the homes did not house civilians but terrorists.
“The Americans had very good information,” the official said. “It was like trying to catch a sparrow. They had a small moment to catch the fighters in those houses and they did.”
On Sunday, there were no serious mortar attacks against U.S. forces, no fiery sermons at the mosques, no marches in the street. Instead, Fallujah, a battered city that just weeks ago was the scene of some of the most intense urban combat in Iraq since the occupation began, was functioning normally, with police officers at checkpoints, traffic flowing smoothly and boys selling roasted cashews on the sidewalk.
Fallujah remains a volatile spot, the single city in occupied Iraq that is essentially unoccupied, thanks to a truce last month when Marine forces withdrew from the city and transferred authority to an all-Iraqi force called the Fallujah Brigade.
Under the agreement, the Fallujah Brigade promised to establish security within the city, which is 35 miles west of Baghdad, and the Marines promised to stay out.
In the al-Jazeera video, the kidnappers, who identified themselves as belonging to a group led by al-Zarqawi, gave South Korea 24 hours to meet its demand or “we will send you the head of this Korean.”
“Korean soldiers, please get out of here,” the man screamed in English, flailing his arms. “I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die. I know that your life is important, but my life is important.”
South Korean media identified the hostage as Kim Sun Il, 33, an employee of South Korea’s Gana General Trading, Co., a supplier for the U.S. military.
The video came two days after news of the beheading of U.S. hostage Paul Johnson by al Qaeda-linked militants in Saudi Arabia, and an announcement Friday by South Korea that it will send 3,000 soldiers to northern Iraq beginning in early August.
Elsewhere Sunday, attackers laying in wait for Iraqi troops detonated a roadside bomb on the dangerous road leading to Baghdad’s airport, killing two Iraqi soldiers and wounding 11.
Also, U.S. forces clashed with insurgents in Samarra, striking back with helicopter gunships after guerrillas fired mortars into a residential neighborhood. U.S. 1st Infantry Division spokesman Maj. Neal O’Brien said at least four insurgents were killed.