Iraq Denies Classroom Murder Reports : Students: Baghdad says no schoolchildren were killed, and graffiti vowing revenge for Kuwait were pranks by teen-age gang members.

From Reuters

Iraqi officials Saturday dismissed reports of classroom murders, saying that no female students were killed and slogans scrawled in blood were childish pranks by teen-age gang members.

The blood was from a bird and "no criminal incident has been recorded by the Ministry of Interior apart from writing on the walls and on slips of paper," Baghdad television said.

A report from Nicosia, Cyprus, said Saturday that killers slit the throats of eight schoolgirls and used their blood to scrawl graffiti, speaking of revenge for children killed in occupied Kuwait, on the walls of schools and homes.

The report quoted travelers who had spoken to people who said they had seen the slain schoolgirls' bodies.

Saturday night, state television showed about 20 children between the ages of 10 and 16 whom it identified as members of a gang called the Black Hand that was responsible for the graffiti.

The television said Kathem Nouri, 10, had admitted dipping his palm in the blood of a slaughtered bird and stamping it on a wall as the gang's mark.

Saad Mohammed, a 15-year-old student, told the interviewer that he telephoned his brother from a Baghdad hotel, threatening that he would be killed by the Black Hand.

"It was intended as a joke," Mohammed said.

The travelers said the witnesses reported a message daubed in the school corridor after last week's killings that said, "We have reached you in revenge for the children of Kuwait."

They said other schools had also been threatened with violence.

Pupils said the threats all spoke of revenge for children killed by Iraqi troops after their Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait.

"I saw a girl with her neck slashed, lying dead on her desk at a Baghdad school early this week," said an unnamed witness quoted in the Nicosia report.

Another witness, a student at the school where the alleged killings took place, told one traveler the throats of all eight girls were cut and the headmistress was threatened at gunpoint.

"People were terrified," another traveler from Baghdad said. "Many stopped sending their children to school."

About a dozen schools had received threats through written messages or phone calls, he added.

The Iraqi government, in an unusual reference to internal disturbances, said "vagrant teen-agers" had been arrested after causing "horror" in several primary schools.

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