Samarra Mosque Plot Detailed

Times Staff Writer

An Iraqi-born insurgent led a team of international militants in bombing one of the world’s most revered Shiite shrines, an Iraqi intelligence official said Wednesday.

National security advisor Mowaffak Rubaie said Haytham Sabah Shakir Mahmood Badri, who remains at large, was the mastermind of a cell of seven insurgents that attacked the Golden Mosque in Samarra in February. The assault 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.

Rubaie’s announcement came several days after Iraqi soldiers clashed with 16 suspected insurgents at a checkpoint in Duluiya, about 55 miles north of Baghdad. The soldiers killed everyone in the group except for a Tunisian named Abu Qudama, who was wounded and admitted his role in the Samarra bombing, Rubaie said. Qudama also told Iraqi authorities about Badri’s involvement, Rubaie said.


Badri was said to have directed a cell comprising 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.

Rubaie said Badri also led a group of four insurgents who kidnapped and killed Atwar Bahjat, a prominent journalist for 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 Haytham Badri, who executed the operation by himself,” Rubaie said.

Rubaie said Badri is based in Salahuddin province and is responsible for killing hundreds of Iraqi civilians and members of the security forces. Badri had ties to Saddam Hussein’s toppled regime, Rubaie said, and with Ansar al Islam, a northern-based Kurdish Islamic extremist group, before he linked up with the Al Qaeda in Iraq organization run by the late Abu Musab Zarqawi.

The national security advisor said the Duluiya raid was a joint effort by Iraqi soldiers and U.S. forces, but he touted Qudama’s capture as 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,” Rubaie said.


Meanwhile, violence claimed at least 37 lives across Iraq, including those of two U.S. troops.

In Baghdad, 24 bodies arrived at the Yarmouk Hospital morgue. Four of them showed signs of torture; one of the victims was killed by gunmen on his doorstep; and two were children killed when they picked up a bag containing an explosive device.

A bomb exploded in a market in northwest Baghdad, killing an Iraqi and injuring eight.

In the southern city of Basra, police discovered seven bodies. A police source said all of the victims had been tortured, handcuffed and shot to death.

In the northern city of Kirkuk, gunmen killed a dentist as he left his clinic. A female patient who was with him was injured in the attack.

South of Baghdad, in a village 15 miles north of Hillah, a roadside bomb killed a police officer and wounded three people.

The U.S. military announced Wednesday that an American soldier had been killed the day before by a roadside bomb north of Baghdad, and that insurgents had killed a Marine, also on Tuesday, in the western province of Al Anbar.

In addition, U.S. military officials announced that American troops had captured a suspected Al Qaeda in Iraq member but killed an Iraqi civilian in the process.

A military statement said the civilian “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.”


Times staff writer Zainab Hussein in Baghdad, special correspondent Ali Windawi in Kirkuk and special correspondents in Baghdad, Babil province and Basra contributed to this report.