By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Feb. 20, 2008 - Coalition forces in recent days have killed or captured three terrorist leaders responsible for planning or conducting attacks in Iraq or supplying other terrorists with supplies or training to attack, a Multinational Force Iraq spokesman reported today. As they continue investigating these criminals, coalition and Iraqi forces also are looking into al Qaeda in Iraq's use of women as suicide bombers and working to mitigate that threat, Navy Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith told Baghdad reporters today.
U.S. troops killed a senior al Qaeda in Iraq intelligence leader responsible for deadly attacks in Baghdad on Feb. 17, Smith said. Abu Karrar was a senior intelligence leader and facilitator for the Diyala suicide-bombing network, the admiral said. Karrar, also known as Arkan Khalaf Khudayyir, reportedly was a key player in the network that included female suicide bombers.
Coalition forces were operating near Khan Bani Sad in Iraq when they saw Karrar and another suspect fleeing their vehicle and pointing weapons at the soldiers, Smith said. The soldiers shot and killed both terrorists.
The incident followed the apprehension one day earlier of another al Qaeda in Iraq leader, Abu Sayf. Coalition forces captured Sayf on Feb. 16 in the East Mansour neighborhood of Baghdad. Sayf was responsible for two deadly car-bomb attacks in a crowded square in Karrada on Feb. 11, Smith said. These attacks killed 14 Iraqi civilians and an Iraqi army soldier and wounded 29 civilians.
On Feb. 18, coalition forces captured a man believed to be responsible for supplying Iranian-trained and –funded "special groups" operating out of the western Baghdad area with armor-piercing explosively formed projectiles and other munitions, Smith said. The suspect, whose name was not released, also ran a network that provided para military training to terrorists, he said.
"Coalition soldiers and our Iraqi partners remain focused on protecting the people of Baghdad, and the investigation into these three criminals and their extremist networks is continuing," Smith said. "Our investigation into al Qaeda's use of women as suicide bombers and our efforts to mitigate this threat also continues."
Smith cited quick action by the Iraqi army Feb. 17 that foiled a female would-be bomber's efforts to commit mass murder in Baghdad's Rusafa market. Noting the woman's erratic actions, the Iraqi troops ordered the woman to stop and raise her hands. When she lifted one hand while attempting to conceal an object attached to multiple wires with the other hand, the soldiers called out a warning then fired three shots, Smith reported. The bomber staggered away from the market center to a nearby store, where her suicide bomb detonated, killing three shoppers and wounding several others.
"The vigilance and heroism of these Iraqi army soldiers prevented an untold number of deaths of innocent people in the market," Smith said.
Iraqi soldiers aren't the only Iraqis on the job against terrorism, he said. Smith noted a Feb. 17 incident in Adhamiyah, in which members of a citizen's volunteer group prevented al Qaeda operatives from smuggling homemade bombs and improvised explosive devices into their neighborhood.
A minivan approached a checkpoint, and its driver refused to stop as ordered by concerned local citizens manning the post, Smith said. The civilian volunteers took defense positions and opened fire. The driver attempted to escape while the vehicle exploded, killing two passengers inside, he said.
Explosive ordnance disposal experts called to the scene found evidence that the van had been packed with homemade explosives. "This is yet another incident where potentially deadly materials were prevented from being used to murder innocent Iraqis," Smith said.
Efforts like these have brought the number of civilian deaths in Baghdad from 1,087 in February 2007 to 178 in January 2008, Smith said. "Despite a decline of more than 75 percent, the number of deaths is still too high," he said. "Each victim is a tragedy."
Deaths from ethno-sectarian violence in Baghdad are down 95 percent during the past 11 months, and incidents involving improvised explosive devices have dropped more than 45 percent in the capital city, he said.
Smith said recent activities capturing and killing terrorists and uncovering their weapons caches underscores the fact that they're still a threat. "While the progress has been significant, we all know Baghdad is not safe from al Qaeda and other extremists," he said. "There is still much work to be done to secure Baghdad from extremism."
He pointed to a Feb. 18 incident in which Iranian-backed special group criminals launched 16 rockets toward Baghdad International Airport, West Rashid and the Camp Victory complex. The attack killed five Iraqi civilians and wounded 14 others, including six children, Smith reported. It also killed two coalition troops.
Iraqi and coalition forces quickly detained six suspects at the scene, all who tested positive for explosive residue, Smith said. The troops also seized 19 rail systems used to launch the rockets, a 107 mm rocket ready to be fired and several other high-explosive munitions.
Last night in the New Baghdad area, special groups fired rockets that wounded three coalition soldiers. Iraqi police reacted to the scene, where they found an abandoned truck loaded with multiple rockets, ready to be fired, Smith said.
As their explosive ordnance disposal unit attempted to render the rockets safe, one exploded, killing five national police and wounding 10 others. "Their selfless bravery no doubt saved the lives of countless innocent Iraqis had the special groups been successful in firing these rockets," Smith said.
In another incident last night, one U.S. civilian died and other coalition and civilian workers were injured when special-group criminals fired several rockets in the Rustimiyah area, he reported.