United States marines pressing an offensive in the Iraqi town of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, bombed a central mosque on Wednesday and killed up to 40 insurgents holed up inside, a marine officer said.
The bombing came after several hours of small arms and rocket-propelled grenades fire from insurgents, which left three marines wounded, said Lieutenant Colonel Brennan Byrne.
He said there were “as many as 40 rebels” inside the mosque.
“We want to kill the people inside,” he added.
The officer said a Cobra helicopter gunship fired a Hell Fire missile at the mosque and then an aircraft dropped a laser-guided precision bomb.
Fallujah residents confirmed that the Abdulaziz al-Samarai mosque was hit along with the building of the Islamic Scholars’ Association.
The officer said the marines carried out the raid as precisely as they could because there are people living nearby.
US forces have claimed that the rebels, who are fiercely opposed to the US-led occupation of Iraq, were using mosques to fire on marines and to hide weapons.
Earlier on Wednesday, all the city mosques called for a jihad (holy war) against occupation forces amid intense bombardments and aircraft overflights.
The insurgents claimed in a communiqué to have shot down three US helicopters, and destroyed two jeeps and two armoured vehicles.
They also claimed they were still in control of the city and had put US forces to flight.
Meanwhile, Byrne said the marines advancing from the south reached the center of Fallujah amid fierce fighting on the third day of Operation Vigilant Resolve to flush out insurgents who killed four American contractors here last week.
“The marines are now at the center of the city,” he said.
It was not immediately clear if marines advancing from the north had also reached the center of Fallujah, which lies west of Baghdad.
Another marine officer, who did not wish to be identified, said the force suffered six injuries on Wednesday.
During a battle with insurgents holed up in a mosque, five marines were slightly wounded by shrapnel when a rocket-propelled grenade exploded near their Humvee, he said.
One marine was shot in the arm in a separate attack by insurgents.
The officer said a helicopter gunship shot and killed one insurgent who had fired a rocket-propelled grenade at marines on Wednesday.
The slain body of an insurgent who was killed on Tuesday was still lying on the ground of a street in southern Fallujah. — Sapa-AFP