KUWAIT CITY - The war in Iraq came to Kuwait in the dead of night today in the form of a missile that slammed into a pier connected to a major shopping mall, blew out large chunks of ceiling and shattered glass doors and windows up to a half-mile away. There were no known injuries.
The missile was believed to be a Silkworm, an anti-ship missile and the Chinese-made version of the Soviet Styx, according to U.S. officials. The Silkworm, which may have been fired from southern Iraq, has a range of about 50 miles, flies low and could escape detection by the American Patriot, used against high-altitude missiles. No air-raid sirens sounded before the explosion.
Felt miles away
The force of the explosion could be felt at least two miles away, and only the timing of the attack - just after 1:40 a.m. in Kuwait - prevented injuries. The mall was closed, although a nearby grocery store was open and customers were inside. The damaged Souq Sharq mall, on the Kuwaiti seafront, is three stories high and is one of the busiest in the country.
Smoke billowed as a backdrop to the Kuwait City skyline immediately after the blast, and police, firefighters and paramedics converged on the area within minutes, sending an unneeded reminder that war is raging only a bit more than 50 miles from here.
Many of the 2.3 million residents of the city have been scurrying into basements and shelters since shortly after the start of the war, alerted to missiles fired this way by air-raid sirens that have blared intermittently since U.S. war planes first bombed Iraq, on March 20.
Jassim Al-Mansouri, the Kuwait City fire chief, said the missile struck the pier about 15 feet above sea level and probably was not detected because it was skimming so close to the water's surface.
Once the missile hit the pier, it exploded, and fragments continued inland, causing the damage to the mall and an adjacent parking garage, he said. Emergency workers quickly determined the missile carried no biological or chemical weapons.
"We were fortunate that it came when it did," the fire chief said, standing amid scattered steel fragments from the weapon and broken glass from lights that had brightened a small promenade between the pier and the mall's parking garage. "When the mall is open, it is packed."
Most of the damage was to the parking garage, but giant glass doors to the mall, more than 200 yards from where the missile struck, were blown onto a brick sidewalk outside and onto a marble floor inside.
A movie theater inside the mall has been closed since the start of the war because of fears of an attack, Al-Mansouri said.
'I thought ... Saddam'
Kuwait has not provided military personnel for the war in Iraq, but it is the major staging ground in the region for U.S. and British forces. Many residents of Kuwait City have stocked up on emergency provisions, expecting an attack from the forces of Saddam Hussein, and police have been staffing checkpoints on the country's highways and major roads.
The missile that struck was the 13th fired at Kuwait since the war began, although most were believed to be targeted outside the city at U.S. forces.
At least two earlier missiles fired toward the city were reportedly intercepted by Patriot missiles.
Jassim Al-Shaman, 20, said he had just dozed when the blast jolted him out of bed.
"First thing I thought was Saddam," he said. "We've been waiting for this."