Shot down of first civilian aircraft in Iraq

A commercial helicopter was shot down north of the Iraqi capital yesterday, killing 11 persons, including six American contractors, officials said.

Bulgaria's Defense Ministry said the Russian-made helicopter was downed by missile fire and the victims included a three-member Bulgarian crew.

A Toronto-based charter company said there were two bodyguards from Fiji on board, while Bulgaria's Transport Ministry said they were from the Philippines.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said the six Americans were employees of Blackwater Security Consulting -- a subsidiary of North Carolina-based Blackwater USA -- and were assisting the Bureau of Diplomatic Security in protecting U.S. diplomats in Iraq, reports the Washington Times.

According to ABC News, the &to=http:// ' target=_blank>chartered flight was believed to be the first civilian aircraft shot down in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion two years ago.

An Internet statement by a group identifying itself as the Islamic Army in Iraq was accompanied by a video showing the repeated shooting of a man who was found in tall grass and forced to stand up and walk. The video showed burning wreckage just before the shooting. The authenticity of the video, posted on a Web forum often used by militant groups, could not be confirmed. A U.S. Embassy official in Baghdad said he had no knowledge that anyone on board survived the crash and was killed later.

The &to=http:// ' target=_blank>Mi-8 helicopter was shot out of the air as growing numbers of contractors, diplomats and other civilian officials are turning to aircraft to avoid insurgent attacks on Iraq's roads.

The downing is part of a surge of attacks that have caused heavy casualties in recent weeks, ending a relative calm since January elections. In the latest violence, two U.S. Marines and at least five other people, including two foreign civilians, were killed in attacks Wednesday and Thursday.

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