A man working for The Times has been reported missing following a series of bomb attacks which struck Baghdad yesterday hitting the offices of the Times, Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times injuring journalists and other staff.
The Times bureau chief, Oliver August reported today that a staff member identified only as “Yasser” – one of two brothers who had been working for the paper since the 2003 Iraq invasion – had been running an errand when the blasts took place. He has not been seen or heard from since.
The bombs hit three hotels within minutes of each other shortly after lunchtime yesterday. The targets were the Sheraton, the Babylon and lastly the Hamra Hotel, home of several news organisations.
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In his report of the bombings today, August described how minutes before the Hamra was hit he had seen shooting at the fortified gates.
Guards later confirmed that two men had pointed guns at them demanding to enter the site. The guards refused entry and had fired at the men, killing the driver.
The second man then took the wheel and drove at high speed through the main entrance, running away from the vehicle once inside the gates.
Shortly afterwards the van exploded, tearing through the building. August and Yasser’s brother Haider took refuge behind a concrete wall watching the contents of their office and shards from the windows fly across the room.
Once he emerged from the dust and chaos of the Hamra hotel August said he was faced with the blackened engine of the bomber’s van which had been ‘hurtled through the air over a 15ft (4.5m) concrete blast wall”.
The force of the explosion became shockingly clear as August described walking into the road:
‘Other small buildings and protective walls had disappeared too. Victims lay among leaves shorn from trees, blackened car parts, broken glass, concrete shards and snapped power lines.”
The search for missing Yasser began immediately. Haider, who found his damaged car, was only able to identify the twisted wreckage of his brother’s silver Toyota from a prescription for their mother which lay inside.
Haider is currently searching the city’s hospitals for news of Yasser. Press Gazette expect to hear more from The Times later today (UPDATE: Times confirms Yasser’s death.)
The Washington Post, which occupies part of the Hamra, reported three of its Iraqi employees were injured in the blast.
In a telephone interview with The Financial Times, Ali Al-Adeeb, a lawmaker close to the Iraqi prime minister said: “They (the insurgents) are trying to stop the political process.
“They targeted the media offices so the bombings would echo.”