— The top U.N. official in Iraq was killed today after a massive truck bomb ripped through the world body's Baghdad headquarters. At least 16 others died and more than 100 were wounded in the most devastating attack ever on a U.N. facility.
The United Nations confirmed Sergio Vieira de Mello, the Brazilian who headed the U.N. mission in Iraq, had died. Vieira de Mello, 55, was in his office when the explosion occurred and was trapped in the rubble for hours.
U.N. officials said 17 people were killed, including seven U.N. employees. Of the 108 wounded, 86 have been hospitalized and 22 were hurt but walked away from the scene, U.N. officials said.
In a strong condemnation of the bombing, President Bush today called the attackers "enemies of the civilized world."
"These killers will not determine the future of Iraq," Bush told reporters at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. "Iraq is on an irreversible course toward self-government and peace. And America and our friends in the United Nations will stand with the Iraqi people."
In addition to Vieira de Mello, the U.N. employees killed in the blast were identified as Rick Hooper, an American who worked in the Department of Public Affairs; Fiona Watson, from the United Kingdom; Ranillo Buenaventura and Marilyn Manuel, both from the Philippines; Jean-Selim Kanaan, an Egyptian; and Chris Klein-Beckman, a 32-year-old Canadian who worked for the United Nations Children's Fund.
U.S. military officials in Baghdad said the bomb blew up near al Kanal hotel housing the U.N. headquarters in northeastern Baghdad around 4:30 p.m. local time. The hotel had been the headquarters for U.N. operations in Iraq since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and housed the U.N. weapons inspection program and humanitarian assistance efforts.
A truck apparently approached al Kanal hotel from a parking area on the side of the building. A 12-foot-tall concrete wall had just been completed around the 600-by-900-foot hotel compound, but the site was not strictly guarded by police or military forces. It was unclear whether the truck tried to ram through the wall.
Annan Heading Back to New York
The light security presence was intentional, U.N. officials said, because they "did not want a large American presence outside," U.N. spokesman Salim Lone said.
"We are unarmed. We don't have a lot of security, as this bomb shows," Lone said. "We don't want a lot of security, because we're here to help the people of Iraq."
Messages of condolence and outrage came pouring in from officials and human rights groups around the world.
Shortly after the attack, a U.N. spokesman said U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan had cut short his vacation in northern Europe to return to New York, where the international body is headquartered.
In a statement released in New York, Annan expressed shock and dismay over the attack and said he hoped the perpetrators would be brought to justice.
The flags of the 191 U.N. member states were taken down, and the blue and white U.N. flag was lowered to half-staff.
Trapped in the Rubble
As night fell on Baghdad, distraught relatives of local U.N. staffers were desperately trying to reach the devastated site of the attack, anxious for news about their loved ones.
A security cordon was established around the area. Witnesses said Black Hawk helicopters hovered around the site ready to ferry the wounded to hospitals.