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U.S. raids Iraq psychiatric hospital over attacks

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. troops raided a psychiatric hospital in Baghdad on Sunday and arrested a man suspected of involvement in two recent bombings blamed on mentally impaired women, the U.S. military said.

Ten days ago, explosives carried by two women, said by Iraqi and U.S. officials to be mentally handicapped teenagers and unwitting suicide bombers, blew up in two popular pet markets in central Baghdad, killing 99 people and wounding more than 150.

The attacks, which the U.S. military blamed on al Qaeda, were the deadliest bombings in the city since last April.

“We did conduct an operation at the al-Rashad hospital,” Lieutenant-Colonel Steve Stover, a spokesman for U.S. troops in Baghdad, told Reuters.

“We detained an individual that we believe was linked to al Qaeda in Iraq and suicide bombers.”

He confirmed the man was suspected of being involved in the recent deadly attacks but declined to give any further details. The man had not yet been charged, he added.

An Iraqi Health Ministry official said the acting director of the al-Rashad hospital, which cares for mentally ill patients in southeastern Baghdad, had been taken into custody.

Another senior health official in charge of hospitals in the area identified the same man and said U.S. and Iraqi forces spent three hours searching the building.

“They arrested the acting director, accusing him of working with al Qaeda and recruiting mentally ill women and using them in suicide bombing operations,” the hospital official said, adding that patient files and computers had been seized.

Neither U.S. nor Iraqi officials have produced definitive evidence that the market bombers suffered any mental impairment but both sides have said there was strong evidence to indicate the women suffered from Down syndrome.

They have also said it was likely the women were unwitting bombers duped by al Qaeda and their condition was possibly a reason why the women were able to avoid being searched.

Additional reporting by Aseel Kami and Ahmed Rasheed