A huge explosion rocked the headquarters of the United Nations in Baghdad on Tuesday, leaving several people injured and at least 10 dead, according to a Sky News report.
The explosion was caused by a truck bomb, a UN employee said.
”I saw a yellow cement truck crash into the wall of the Canal hotel and explode,” said Fayez Sarhan.
Bernard Kerik, the coalition’s advisor to the Iraqi Interior Ministry, said: ”There was an enormous amount of explosives in what we believed to be a large truck. It might have been a suicide bomber. There is evidence that suggests that.”
The blast occurred at 4.40pm (12.40pm, GMT), UN spokesperson Veronique Taveau said, adding: ”There are several injured.”
”Benon Sevan, director of the UN oil-for-food programme in Iraq, who was giving a press conference, was injured,” Taveau said.
Sergio Vieira de Mello, the UN special representative in Iraq, had also been injured in the attack, reported UN officials. Fred Eckhard, a spokesperson for the world body, said he could not specify whether Vieira de Mello had been seriously injured.
The UN envoy was in his office at the time of the blast and was attended to by rescue workers. He retained consciousness and was able to drink a glass of water, a UN official noted.
An AP reporter could see 40 injured people lying in the front garden and receiving first aid.
”I can’t move. I can’t feel my legs and arms. Dozens of people I know are still under the ruins,” Majid Al-Hamaidi (43), a driver for the World Bank, cried out.
”I was sitting in the cafeteria and heard an explosion. Everything came down on our head, I can’t find my colleagues and I’m worried about them,” said UN employee Alice Yacoub.
US military workers and Iraqi police were evacuating the area. Dozens of US military vehicles were at the scene and at least two Black Hawk helicopters hovered above. Black smoke rose hundreds of metres into the air.
Witnesses said that the blast blew out windows up to 1,5km away from the UN buildings. The force of the blast destroyed several cars.
UN weapons inspectors worked out of the Canal hotel during the period before the war. The hotel operates more as an office building than a hotel and the cafeteria is a popular place for humanitarian workers and journalists to meet.
The three-floor building houses the offices of most UN agencies with the exception of Unicef and the Food and Agriculture Organisation. Before the war, it was home to UN weapons inspectors who have hundreds of documents there and a mobile testing lab in the hotel parking lot.
UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Danilo Turk was expected to make a statement to the Security Council later on Tuesday on the events in Baghdad. — Sapa-AFP