Bombing of Shiite shrine blamed on Iraqi insurgent

Feb. attack sparked wave of violence


BAGHDAD, Iraq -- An Iraqi-born insurgent led a team of seven foreign militants in bombing one of the world's most revered Shiite shrines, an Iraqi intelligence official said yesterday.

National security adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie said Haitham Sabah Shaker Mohammed al-Badri, who remains at large, masterminded a cell of seven insurgents that attacked the ancient Golden Mosque in Samara in February. The attack crumbled the domed house of worship, outraged Iraq's Shiite majority and sparked weeks of sectarian killings that left hundreds of dead and brought Iraq to the brink of civil war.

Al-Rubaie made his announcement several days after Iraqi soldiers clashed with 16 suspected insurgents a checkpoint in Dhuliya, about 50 miles north of Baghdad. The soldiers killed the entire group except for Abu Qudama, a suspected Tunisian insurgent who was wounded and confessed to his role in the Samarra bombing, al-Rubaie said. Qudama also told Iraqi authorities about al-Badri's involvement, al-Rubaie said.

Al-Badri was said to have directed a cell made up of of Qudama, four Saudis and two Iraqis to break into the shrine, tie up the mosque's guards and plant explosives inside the structure. The operatives detonated the bombs on the morning of Feb. 22.

Al-Rubaie said al-Badri also led a group of four insurgents who kidnapped and killed Atwar Bahjat, a prominent journalist for the Al-Arabiya satellite television channel, as she covered the devastation of the mosque.

"Atwar Bahjat was there, and as she was calling her television headquarters near a gas station, she was observed by [al-Badri], who executed the operation by himself," al-Rubaie said.

Al-Rubaie said al-Badri is based in Salahuddin province and is responsible for killing hundreds of Iraqi civilians and members of security forces. Al-Badri had ties to Saddam Hussein's government, al-Rubaie said, and with the northern-based Kurdish Islamic extremist insurgent group Ansar al-Islam before he linked up with al-Qaida in Iraq, which was run by Abu Musab Zarqawi until he was killed this month.

The national security adviser said the Dhuliya raid was a joint effort by Iraqi soldiers and U.S. forces but called the capture of Qudama a major success for Iraq's security forces.

"In announcing this result, we are calling on the Iraqi people to understand the high level our security and intelligence services have reached," al-Rubaie said.

Meanwhile, violence killed at least 37 people across Iraq, including two U.S. troops.

The U.S. military announced that an American soldier was killed Tuesday by a roadside bomb north of Baghdad and that insurgents had killed a Marine in western Anbar province. U.S. military officials also announced that U.S. troops had captured a suspected al-Qaida member but killed an Iraqi civilian in the process.

A military statement said the man who was killed "was acting suspiciously at a nearby house. They assessed him as an imminent threat, engaged and killed him. He was later determined to be a noncombatant."

The statement said that U.S. forces "deeply regret any injury or death to noncombatants."

In Shahraban, 25 miles east of Baqouba, members of a Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army, attacked several Sunni-owned shops with rifles and grenades and burned down a nearby Sunni mosque, authorities said. Later in the day, a bomb damaged a Shiite mosque near the same village.

Solomon Moore writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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