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U.S. searching site of strike at Hussein

©Associated Press

April 10, 2003

WASHINGTON -- U.S. special operations forces on Wednesday scoured the site of a Baghdad building leveled by American bombs, searching for evidence that Saddam Hussein was inside at the time of the blasts, officials said.

The team is looking for remains or other evidence to prove that the four tons of bombs dropped on the building Monday hit the Iraqi leader, the Associated Press reported, quoting officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Multiple intelligence sources put Hussein inside the building in the capital's Mansour neighborhood before it was hit, other U.S. officials said.

Intelligence officials described the information that led to Monday's strike as solid but did not provide details. One source was believed to be an eyewitness who watched Hussein go inside the building. No one would discuss the identity or characterize the credibility of the witness.

The officials stopped well short of declaring Hussein dead, describing the information as encouraging but not conclusive.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld laid out several possibilities: "He's not active. Therefore, he's either dead, or he's incapacitated, or he's healthy and cowering in some tunnel someplace trying to avoid being caught."

Most officials expect Hussein to remain in Baghdad until the very end. If he flees, it could be to his hometown of Tikrit, to the north of Baghdad, which has been bombed heavily but isn't under U.S. control. Officials cast doubt on speculation he could go to Syria, or seek refuge in the Russian Embassy in Baghdad.

On Monday, U.S. intelligence heard that Hussein and his sons, Qusay and Uday, were possibly going to attend a meeting with Iraqi intelligence officials.

Three houses were destroyed. It was unclear who was inside, or whether anyone survived. Iraqi rescue workers recovered bodies from the debris Tuesday, including the body of a child and part of a young woman.

The target was not a widely known neighborhood restaurant, as some U.S. officials had reported, but a site near that restaurant.

The fate of Hussein's sons is also unknown.

Military officials in the region said Hussein doesn't appear to be in control.

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