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Analysis: Terrorists On Parade

Terrorists pose with a South Korean man taken hostage last year At a 21 February press briefing by Colonel Salam Tirad Abd, director of criminal intelligence in the Babil governorate, purported Iraqi terrorists confessed in front of the media to their involvement in assassinations and beheadings. According to RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI), a number of the arrested said they were recruited to chase police cars in Babil and assassinate those inside. When asked why he was killing policemen and soldiers, one of those in custody, Amir Latif Mutlaq, said: "It is being said in schools of Islam that they are the agents of the Americans."

A number of news outlets, including state-run Al-Iraqiya television, last week broadcast "confessions" by purported terrorists. There appears to be a thin thread of connectivity among the testimonies: some said that either Syria or Iran financed their activities in Iraq, but many appeared confused as to whom they were working for, or who was funding their attacks.

The broadcasts have increased in frequency in recent weeks and Al-Iraqiya is not the only channel to carry such footage. Dubai-based Iraqi channel "Al-Fayha," which has been identified by some Iraqis as a "Shi'ite channel," has run a series of interviews with alleged terrorists in Iraqi custody.

Colonel Tirad Abd said that Egyptian, Syrian, Iranian, Pakistani, and Lebanese nationals have been arrested in the governorate. He said some of the arrested had direct links to fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi. He described a network in which terrorists were ranked in a cell structure holding positions of "princes" and "executioners." A 24 February article in "The Guardian" reported that alleged terrorists in Mosul said they were told they would be made "princes" after carrying out 10 beheadings.
"It is being said in schools of Islam that they are the agents of the Americans."

One of the suspects, Abd al-Qadir Abd al-Karim, described his participation in detonating explosive devices and car bombs near U.S. troops. He added that financier Sa'dun Sabih Kazim brought the explosives to Syrian suicide bombers in Iraq. The Syrians "would drive alongside [U.S. military] bases and detonate [the explosives]," Abd al-Karim said. When asked where the group obtained its explosives, he claimed that Kazim got them from "the Islamic Party," an apparent reference to the Iraqi Islamic Party. The Sunni-led party boycotted participation in Iraq's national elections and has continuously denied any connection to terrorist activities in Iraq.

The accounts given by the men differed in that some said they were paid for their activities, and others said they received no compensation. One man, Amir Latif Mutlaq, said he was paid 250,000 Iraqi dinars ($178) for one operation, while Zuhayr Qasim Mutlaq, his apparent cousin, said that he was not paid. Zuhayr also claimed that he was forced through intimidation to participate in the group's activities. Ayad Kamil, another man in custody, gave a similar account: "Two men whom I had not known came to me. They said: 'Get in [the car].' When I asked what [they wanted], they said: 'Get in, or we will kill you.'... They said: 'We have a job to kill some people. If you do not go with us, we will kill you.'"

Foreign Meddling?

The interrogations have also turned up allegations of the involvement of foreign powers. According to a 23 February AP report, a recent "confession" broadcast on Al-Iraqiya showed a man identified as Lieutenant Anas Ahmad al-Issa of the Syrian intelligence service, who said his group was recruited to "cause chaos in bar America from reaching Syria." Al-Issa and 10 other men -- all Iraqis -- said on camera that they were recruited by Syrian intelligence officers. Al-Issa further claimed that he entered Iraq in 2001 because Syrian intelligence was convinced that a U.S. attack against Iraq would come. Another man, Shawan al-Sabawi, identified as a former lieutenant colonel in the Iraqi Army, said Syrian intelligence trained him in how to behead hostages. Al-Issa said the group practiced beheadings on animals. He added that Syrian intelligence provided weapons, explosives, and equipment, paying the group's members $1,500 month, AP reported.

Broadcasts of interrogations on Al-Iraqiya and Al-Fayha have also featured foreign fighters who said their activities were financed by Syria and Iran. And London's "Al-Hayat" reported on 9 February that Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib revealed that 18 Lebanese nationals belonging to Hizballah have recently been arrested on charges of terrorism. Al-Naqib said at the time, however, that Iran posed a greater threat to Iraq by interfering in Iraq's "internal affairs, especially by its followers." "As to our problem with Syria," he said, "it can be resolved through dialogue and cooperation."

The interim government is clearly attempting to gain public support against the terrorists and their supporters in neighboring states. It also wants to demonstrate to the Iraqi people that it has gained ground in its war on terror.

Questionable Testimony

But the broadcasts also raise questions about the tactics used in interrogations. A report issued by Human Rights Watch ( in January documents detainees' complaints of torture and ill-treatment in detention, particularly during interrogations. Detainees have reported routine beatings to the body with cables, hose pipes, and other instruments; being kicked, punched, and slapped; and receiving electric shocks to the earlobes and genitals -- all practices sanctioned by the Hussein regime. "With rare exception, the [interim] Iraqi authorities have failed to investigate and punish officials responsible for violations," the HRW report stated.

Moreover, statements under duress are less than reliable testimony. According to a 21 February Reuters report, the interrogator in an Al-Iraqiya television report, "encouraged the men to speak about 'filthy crimes' and constantly mentioned Syria." The interrogator asks one man: "So were these goods smuggled with the knowledge of the Syrian government?" The suspect replies yes, and then no.

The confessions have also raised skepticism among viewers, according to western media reports, who feel they are being manipulated by such broadcasts. For the media, it is also difficult to verify the authenticity of the confessions. As a Reuters report noted, the interrogator's face does not appear on camera, and the men interrogated are shown sitting in office chairs across from a desk in a white-walled room.

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