Files for Suicide Bombers Show No Down Syndrome
BAGHDAD — Psychiatric case files of two female suicide bombers who killed nearly 100 people in Baghdad this month show that they suffered from depression and schizophrenia but do not contain information indicating they had Down syndrome, American officials said Wednesday.
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Two Bombings Wreak Carnage in Iraqi Capital (February 2, 2008)
In the aftermath of the Feb. 1 bombings — the most devastating attacks in Baghdad since summer — Iraqi officials said that the women had Down syndrome, a genetic disorder. They based their opinion partly on the appearance of the remains of the women, whose heads, as often happens in suicide bombings, were severed by the blasts.
A senior American commander in Baghdad, Maj. Gen. Jeffery W. Hammond, also said there were indications that the women were mentally disabled and were unwitting victims of insurgents.
The information led to reports that Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a homegrown Sunni extremist group that American officials say is led by foreigners, had been using mentally disabled people as suicide bombers.
But a senior American military spokesman said Wednesday that it remained unclear whether the women had Down syndrome or suffered from any medical condition that would have prevented them from understanding what they were doing.
Investigators say they believe that they established the identities of the women — using pictures of their heads — and then interviewed officials at Baghdad psychiatric hospitals, who said the women had been patients and had such illnesses as depression and schizophrenia, said Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, a top American spokesman in Baghdad.
“We used multiple ways to corroborate those women, their identities based on their heads, with other individuals to be able to determine who they were,” Admiral Smith said Wednesday. “And then we were able to work back on the case files, so now we’ve got a fairly good pattern of who the women were and what their past had been.”
“What we don’t know precisely is how does that link to Al Qaeda,” he said.
The women, one of whom had been married, were unrelated, he said. One was in her late 20s and the other in her early 30s, he said.
Admiral Smith said he did not know whether either woman had a criminal record or had ever tried to commit suicide before the bombings. He said investigators reviewed their psychiatric files — but not their medical files — and that those files “did not reveal Down syndrome.” One psychiatric counselor said he believed that one woman had Down syndrome, Admiral Smith said.
“We know that we got their complete records, their case files, and we know they had in-patient treatment as recently as the last month or two,” Admiral Smith said. He said they had been treated for “typical kinds of psychiatric problems — depression, schizophrenia.”
“That’s about as far as I can go on their mental capacity,” he said. “I don’t know precisely how they were feeling on the day that they did what they did. We don’t know that.”
Dr. Ralph Hoffman, a psychiatry professor at Yale University, said in a telephone interview that people suffering from schizophrenia turned violent in “only a very small number of cases.” But he said it was possible for them to have delusional or paranoid beliefs that would allow them to be persuaded to take such drastic action.
“People with schizophrenia have not been agents of terrorism attacks to the best of my knowledge, so this would be a departure,” Dr. Hoffman said. He added that people with schizophrenia “oftentimes are very wary and, if anything, paranoid, and to allow themselves to be strapped with a device and not question it and wonder about it seems unlikely, but it is possible.” He also said that depression would be unlikely to prompt someone to take such action.
Worries about insurgents using mentally disabled people as bombers prompted the Iraqi government’s decision this week to begin enforcing a Saddam Hussein-era law to round up beggars and the mentally disabled. Iraqi officials said the mentally disabled would be sent to hospitals while beggars would be taken to the police, foster homes, juvenile institutions or their families.
Separately on Wednesday, the American military reported that a large bomb killed three American soldiers in northwestern Baghdad on Tuesday night. And insurgents killed another soldier in Mosul on Wednesday in an attack with rocket-propelled grenades that wounded three other soldiers. Twenty-three service members have died in Iraq this month, according to Icasualties.org, which tracks deaths.
Admiral Smith said that three allied soldiers were wounded Tuesday night in a rocket attack in eastern Baghdad. A separate rocket attack Tuesday night in eastern Baghdad “resulted in one U.S. civilian killed, and injuries to both coalition and U.S. civilian personnel,” he said. He blamed “special groups” of militiamen who have support from Iranian elements and have refused to abide by a six-month-old cease-fire ordered by Moktada al-Sadr, an anti-American Shiite cleric.
That cease-fire is to expire at the end of February, and Sadr officials said Wednesday that he would decide by this weekend whether to extend it.
In Diyala Province on Wednesday, a suicide bomber attacked a popular market in Muqdadiya, killing at least six people, including two policemen and two women, and wounding 16 more, many of whom were in critical condition, an Iraqi security official in the province said.
Gunmen in Mosul killed four Iraqi policemen and wounded four more on Wednesday, an Iraqi police official said. Car bombs in Tal Afar and western Baghdad each killed one person Wednesday, Iraqi officials said.
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