US forces kill 10 al Qaeda suspects near Baghdad

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BAGHDAD, Nov 2 (Reuters) US airstrikes killed 10 insurgents, two of them wearing explosive vests, in a raid southeast of Baghdad today targeting a suspected militant leader with ties to al Qaeda, the US military said.

American ground troops hunting the militant, described as a ''foreign terrorist facilitator'', were fired at as they approached a building in Salman Pak, 45 km southeast of Baghdad, a US military statement said.

''Coalition forces engaged the terrorists and called for supporting aircraft to help suppress the enemy fire,'' the statement said. ''When the enemy fire ceased, coalition forces found that 10 terrorists had been killed. Two of the terrorists were armed with suicide vests.'' The US military said an arms cache was found nearby with more suicide vests, heavy machineguns and anti-aircraft weapons.

There was no independent confirmation of the report. Iraqis have complained that several airstrikes aimed at insurgents have instead killed and wounded civilians.

In a separate operation, a suspected al Qaeda cell leader was captured in Sharqat, west of Iraq's northern oil city of Kirkuk, the military said. It said he was responsible for facilitating communications between militants and the head of al Qaeda in Iraq.

The al Qaeda network in Iraq is believed to be behind most large-scale suicide attacks in the country, but has faced growing animosity this year even in its former strongholds from Iraqis angered by its indiscriminate killing of civilians and attempts to impose strict Islamic laws.

Several groups formerly hostile to the US military have allied with the Americans and turned on al Qaeda.

In an audiotape released last week, Osama bin Laden conceded that the organisation had made mistakes in Iraq because of fanaticism, but urged Iraqi insurgents to unite to fight the Americans.

REUTERS AM RAI2331

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