I can't prove it, but I think this is a photo of the location where Sgrena was attacked. What's striking about this location is that it appears to be an excellent location for an ambush, and a terrible location for a checkpoint.
In a variety of striking ways, the location shown in the photo I'm posting seems to correspond with the Italian account of what happened (the following details of the incident are mostly based on Fini's statement to the Italian House, as well as other similar accounts via Sgrena):
- Immediately prior to the attack, they drove through an underpass that was flooded. The underpass in the photo is relatively long (perhaps a bit longer than the fuselage of the large aircraft located nearby). If it's not well-drained, it would likely suffer flooding in a heavy rain.
- In the entire large satellite image of the airport and vicinity, I can only spot two or three other underpasses of any kind. For various reasons, they do not look like likely candidates.
- Sgrena was attacked when she was about 700 meters from the airport. The underpass in the detail is about 700 meters from what appears to be the main terminal building.
- As they left the underpass, they immediately entered a sharp ninety-degree turn to the left. This corresponds exactly with what is shown in the satellite image.
- As they were in the turn (or perhaps as they left the turn), a floodlight illuminated the vehicle and fire erupted from a rise to the right of the vehicle. The photo obviously does not show contour lines and elevations, but there appears to be a rise on both sides of the road.
Speaking of fire from the right, a very helpful report of vehicle damage corroborating that account can be found here.
Speaking of fire from the right, note also that the driver is uninjured, the man in the right front seat is seriously injured, the man in the right rear seat is dead, and the woman in the left rear seat is moderately injured.
Note that the location shown in the photo seems like a very smart place to locate an ambush, and a very dumb place to locate a checkpoint. The underpass was dark, flooded and immediately followed by a sharp turn. A vehicle entering that turn, for all these reasons, would have to be moving slowly and would therefore represent a good target. In fact, in examining the entire route, I think there is no other location with more attractive characteristics (from the perspective of someone planning an ambush).
Also, the rise to the right of the road would be an ideal place from which to be able to shoot down into the slow-moving vehicle, with the illuminated occupants in relatively clear view.
In contrast, this would be a terribly illogical place to locate a checkpoint. This article about checkpoints indicates that "most checkpoints are well marked ... with visible and colorful signs in Arabic and English posted from 400 meters away." In other words, a checkpoint, if possible, would be placed on a straight stretch of road where troops and drivers could see each other from a long distance away. This enhances the safety of all parties. Note that Sgrena had already traveled, unimpeded, over about five-and-a-half miles of the road connecting Baghdad to the airport. The maps and satellite images show that there are many, many places on that road where a checkpoint could be set up in the safe manner I described. By all accounts, Sgrena was not stopped at any prior checkpoint.
If it was determined that the airport needed to be protected by a checkpoint, it's incomprehensible that it would be placed in the location shown in the photo I've posted. In the entire route from Bahgdad to the airport, this seems to be literally the worst place to put a checkpoint. For exactly the same reasons, it seems to be the best place to put an ambush.
The photo is a detail from this much larger satellite image (bandwidth warning: multi-megabyte jpeg). The image is dated 4/1/03.
If you're looking at the larger image and you want to see where this detail fits, look for a large aircraft near the center of the airport (I think it's the only aircraft anywhere in the photo). Look due south (and a little bit to the west) from this aircraft, about 700 meters. That's the location of the detail.
A helpful map, but much less detailed, is here. The scale on the large satellite image is unclear, so I took advantage of the scale on this map.
(By the way, an outstanding collection of Iraq maps and satellite images can be found here.)
See this update and comments below for helpful information brought to light by fathom.
My orginal analysis doesn't say this explicitly, but I was assuming eastbound travel through the underpass. Although I still think that was possible, thanks to fathom I'm now convinced that a scenario of westbound travel was more likely. This doesn't change anything fundamental about the analysis. It still seems likely that this photo shows the location of the attack, and it still seems clear that this is an excellent location for an ambush and an exceedingly stupid location for a checkpoint.
By the way, I said "what appears to be the main terminal building." Actually, the main terminal building doesn't appear on the large satellite image (but it does appear on the map I cited). I see now that the building I was describing is some kind of secondary terminal. This is just a clarification, and doesn't change the analysis materially.
Also, in my Notes I suggested there is only one aircraft in the photo. Thanks to fathom, now I see there are two.