MOSUL, Iraq (AP) – A bomb-laden car plowed through a razor wire fence and exploded outside a police station in the north of the country Saturday, killing nine Iraqis and injuring 45, including policemen there to pick up their pay.

It was unclear if the attack was a suicide bombing or the driver fled before the explosion. U.S. officials have said recent vehicle bombings and suicide attacks in Iraq bear the mark of al-Qaida.

In a separate incident, three U.S. soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division were killed Saturday in a roadside bombing near the northern oil center of Kirkuk. Their deaths brought to 522 the number of American service members who have died since the Iraq war began March 20.

Also Saturday, a bomb exploded under the car of police Col. Adnan Radeef al-Ani in front of his house in Baghdad, slightly injuring five children in the street. Al-Ani told The Associated Press the bomb apparently was triggered by a timer but no one was in the vehicle when it exploded.

Witnesses in Mosul, 225 miles north of Baghdad, said what appeared to be a suicide attacker drove through a security barricade in front of the police station before blowing up his vehicle. Iraqi officials confirmed a car bomb but were unsure if the driver detonated the explosive from inside or parked and fled.

Saturday was a pay day and the station was crowded with staff at the time of the midmorning bombing, said police Lt. Mohammed Fadil. Five of the dead were police and the others were Iraqi civilians, policeman Khalid Ahmed said.

Severed limbs, some of them smoldering, and decapitated bodies littered the bloodied street after the attack, the sixth major vehicle bombing in Iraq in the past two weeks but the first in Mosul, the country’s third-largest city and the principal metropolis in the north.

The blast gouged a huge crater in the street and shattered windows of nearby buildings. Pieces of burning car wreckage spewed acrid, black smoke. At least five cars were destroyed.

Stunned survivors stumbled down the street, their clothing soaked in blood.

American soldiers in full combat gear hurried to the scene and cordoned the area. No U.S. troops were near at the time of the blast.

“I fell to the ground and hit my head,” said Lt. Ahmed Abdul Kader, 30, who was inside the police station. “I couldn’t get up. There were people with horrible injuries all around me.”

Policeman Bassil Shehab, who suffered extensive facial burns and shrapnel injuries, called the attack a “criminal act to kill innocent people. They have no religion, and no faith,” he said of the attackers. “Nothing will stop me from going back to work even if something worse happens.”

Saturday’s attacks occurred a day before the start of the four-day Eid al-Adha, or Feast of Sacrifice. The feast, a major Muslim holiday, commemorates the Quran’s account of God allowing the patriarch Abraham to sacrifice a sheep instead of his son Ismail. The Old Testament account says another son, Isaac, was spared.

Police stations have been the frequent targets of insurgents fighting U.S. troops and their Iraqi allies since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime last April. Many of the attacks have been carried out with car bombings and roadside bombs that have killed scores of civilians.

In the deadliest insurgent attack since the capture of Saddam on Dec. 13, a suicide car bombing Jan. 18 at the gates of the U.S.-led coalition headquarters in Baghdad left at least 31 people dead and more than 120 injured.

Four people, including a South African, died Wednesday when a suicide driver in a van disguised as an ambulance blew up his vehicle in front of a Baghdad hotel frequented by Westerners.

U.S. officials have pointed to the rash of vehicle bombings as evidence that Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network may be trying to gain a foothold in Iraq. Although most attacks are believed carried out by Saddam loyalists, suspicion of al-Qaida involvement has risen with the arrest this month of a top al-Qaida operative, Hassan Ghul, who was captured by U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters as he tried to enter the country from Iran.

Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy chief of operations for the coalition, told reporters Friday that car bombings and suicide attacks were tactics “you don’t typically associate” with homegrown Iraqi insurgents.

At the same time, some al-Qaida literature turning up in raids “would indicate there is a presence” of al-Qaida in Iraq, he said, although the number of active cells may be small.

Elsewhere, unidentified gunmen Saturday shot and injured an ethnic Turkomen leader Hussein Maliand and killed his assistant, Mehdi Mohammed Bayatli, in the mainly Turkomen town of Taza-hurmatu just outside Kirkuk, local police chief Torhan Abdul-Rahman Yousif said.

Turkomen, an ethnic minority related to the Turks, have been in conflict with ethnic Kurds in the multiethnic Kirkuk region.

On Friday, saboteurs blew up a section of a pipeline carrying crude oil from Kirkuk to Iraq’s main refinery in Beiji, an oil industry official told Dow Jones Newswires. He said a group of experts had traveled to al-Fatha to assess the damage, which he said did not disrupt refinery operations, because of two-days’ worth of stocks on hand.

AP-ES-01-31-04 1357EST

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