Iraq arrests militant leader, 11 others linked to church attack
Iraq arrested recently the leader of a Muslim extremist group along with 11 others who are linked to the hostage taking and attack on a cathedral that left 44 Christians dead, including two priests last month.
General Ahmed Abu Ragheef of Iraq’s internal affairs Interior Ministry told Gulf News that Huthaifa Al Batawi, Al Qaeda’s Bagdad leader, was among those arrested.
This is the first time since the Oct. 31 cathedral attack that arrests were made linked to the incident that drew international outrage. The extremists were captured in raids that were conducted east and west of the capital, AFP said.
Batawi heads the Islamic State of Iraq. Senior ISI leader Ammar al-Najadi was killed in the raids, the AFP reported. According to CNN, Batawi was the “mastermind, direct supervisor and planner” of the Oct. 31 attack on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad.
The ISI, an umbrella organization, has several Sunni extremist groups under it, and is linked to al Qaeda. The church siege was followed by succeeding attacks against Christians in the weeks following, leaving scores dead and more wounded, CNN reported.
Batawi replaced Munaf Abdul Rahim al-Rawi, who was arrested on March 11 by Iraqi security, the AFP said. Rawi told CNN in a past interview that he supervised twin suicide bombings in August 2009 targeted at Iraq’s finance and foreign affairs ministries.
Rawi also told CNN that in October 2009 he planned attacks against Baghdad’s government and its’ Ministry of Justice. Rawi’s arrest led to crucial intelligence resulting in the killings of the extremist group’s political leader Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, and minister of war Abu Ayub al-Masri, the AFP said.
According to the AFP the 12 extremists were captured in Baghdad’s upscale Mansur neighborhood and on Palestine Street east of the capital. Six tons of toxic gas and explosives were taken during the raids.
The arrests prevented a number of attacks scheduled including one on Baghdad’s heavily protected Green Zone where several government buildings and embassies are situated, the AFP reported.
Pope Benedict XVI declared solidarity with Iraq’s Christians last Sunday at St. Peter’s Square saying, “Religious communities in Italy are praying today, at the request of their bishops, for the Christians who are suffering from persecution and discrimination, notably in Iraq,” according to AFP.
The wave of arrests took place one day after TV channel Al-Baghdadiya in Cairo shut down its Iraq operations for airing the demands of the extremists that attacked the cathedral, the AFP said.
Iraq’s Prime Minister-designate, Nuri Al Maliki told Gulf Daily News that the new government will be installed by mid-December adding, “The security agreement with what it included of dates and commitments will remain valid.”
Maliki said the agreement with the U.S. troops to completely withdraw by the end of 2011 stands, noting that Iraqi forces are capable of handling their country’s security. He told Gulf Daily News, “I do not feel the need for the presence of any other international forces to help Iraqis control the security situation.”