By Gerry J. Gilmore
WASHINGTON, June 29, 2006 – A key al Qaeda operative implicated in the February bombing of a prominent Iraqi mosque was captured last month, a senior U.S. military officer said in Baghdad today. Iraqi National Security Adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie announced yesterday that terrorist Abu Qudama had been seized by Kurdish pershmerga troops after a May 20 firefight north of Baghdad, Army Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell told reporters at a news briefing. Abu Qudama, a Tunisian, is an admitted participant of the Feb. 22 bombing of the Golden Dome, a holy Shiite mosque in Samarra, Caldwell said. The bombing set off sectarian violence across Iraq. The terrorist's capture wasn't announced earlier, Caldwell speculated, because Iraqi and coalition authorities probably wanted more time to extract intelligence.
Abu Qudama is also known as Yousri Fakher Mohammed Ali. His compatriot and the ringleader of the Golden Dome bombing, Haitham Sabah Shaker Mohammed al-Badri, remains at large. Lately, al Qaeda has experienced several reversals of fortune in Iraq. Previous al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed June 7 in an air strike by U.S. F-16 jets. Now, U.S. and coalition forces have set their sights on getting Zarqawi's successor, Egyptian Abu Ayyub al-Masri.
"There is no question that if we can take him down," Caldwell said, "that will just disrupt the organization to the point to where it would be ineffective for a long period of time." Zarqawi's death, Abu Qudama's capture and other recent setbacks have disrupted al Qaeda's operations in Iraq, Caldwell said. And, "that has given us to opportunity to find and track down" more al Qaeda terrorists, the general said.
Iraqi and coalition security forces remain focused on pressuring the terrorists, said Caldwell, spokesman for Multinational Force Iraq, noting that 57 foreign terrorists have been killed or captured in Iraq this month. Caldwell cited the exploits of U.S. 173rd Stryker Brigade soldiers who surprised a group of insurgents last week during an operation near Mosul. The brigade employed an unmanned aerial vehicle, he said, to pinpoint insurgents who'd fired a mortar round at a nearby U.S. base.
The Americans used the Global Positioning System to track the terrorists to their lair and captured nine -- including five Syrians, Caldwell recalled. The GIs also freed a kidnapping victim, the general said, and seized a large cache of enemy ordnance. Another recent operation conducted by U.S. and Iraqi forces uncovered four large weapons caches hidden in and around a soccer stadium in Ramadi, Caldwell said. Materials used for making improvised explosive devices, anti-personnel mines, and numerous weapons were seized, he said. "Iraqi and coalition forces are working side by side," Caldwell said, "to eliminate these foreign terrorists who attempt to hijack the development and building of a stable, peaceful Iraq."