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Iraq: Bomber Of Samarra Mosque Reportedly Captured

The Golden Mosque following the February 22 bombing (epa) PRAGUE, June 28, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- On February 22, a bomb destroyed a Shi'ite shrine in Samarra, north of Baghdad, setting off a rash of violence between Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims that has threatened to plunge Iraq into civil conflict. Today, Iraq announced that it has arrested a leading suspect in the Samarra attack.

National Security Adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i said today that Iraqi security forces have captured Yusri Fakhir Muhammad Ali.

Al-Rubay'i said Ali, also known as Abu Qudama, is a member of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. The official said Ali, a Tunisian, was arrested in Al-Dulu'iyah, north of Baghdad, after a recent firefight between Iraqi forces and a group of insurgents.

According to al-Rubay'i, Ali was seriously wounded in the gunfight and 15 other insurgents were killed. He didn't give the exact date of the incident.

Although Ali was captured, al-Rubay'i said, the Al-Qaeda lieutenant who conceived the attack on the Golden Mosque remains at large. He was identified as Haitham Sabah Shakir Muhammad al-Badri, an Iraqi.

Attack Meant To Foment Sectarian Violence

Al-Rubay'i said the reason for the February attack was to help promote violence between Shi'a and Sunnis. "The shrines of the Al-Askari imams were chosen because of their religious importance and their geographical location, and the choice was meant to cause sectarian division among the people," he said.

The bombs collapsed the golden dome of the 1,200-year-old mosque and was widely viewed as an provocation to Iraq's majority Shi'a. It was followed by sectarian killings of hundreds of Iraqi civilians and attacks on dozens mosques representing both Muslim sects in Iraq.

An estimated 20,000 families also have been displaced because of the violence.

Al-Rubay'i said the search for al-Badri, the mastermind of the mosque attack, has intensified. He said that although Ali was badly wounded, he is helping investigators.

"Abu Qudama al-Tunisi has confessed to his involvement in other activities and gave important information on the activities of Haitham al-Badri and Al-Qaeda in Iraq," al-Rubay'i said.

According to al-Rubay'i, al-Badri's Al-Qaeda unit included two other Iraqis besides al-Badri, four Saudis, and Abu Qudama.

Meanwhile, Iraqi legislators say seven insurgent groups have offered a conditional truce. They say they include former members of the government under deposed President Saddam Hussein. But one of those groups, which calls itself Muhammad's Army, denied that any such offer has been made.

The Iraqi legislators said the groups involved in reconciliation negotiations didn't include Al-Qaeda or related forces.

Reactions To The Samarra Attack

Reactions To The Samarra Attack
Demonstrators in Baghdad on February 23 (epa)

Iraqi religious and government leaders, as well as international officials, condemned the February 22 bomb attack that wrecked the Golden Mosque, a major Shi'ite Muslim shrine in Samarra. Below is a selection of statements on the incident.

"This new ugly crime comes as a warning that there is a conspiracy against the Iraqi people to spark a war among brothers. God willing, we will not allow this.... We must cooperate and work together against this danger, the danger of civil war. This is the fiercest danger because it threatens our unity and our country with a devastating civil war." -- Iraqi President Jalal Talabani

"The timing of this crime indicates that one of its aims is to stall the political process and to hamper the negotiations on the formation of a national-unity government." -- President Talabani

"I announce on this occasion three days of mourning. I hope our heroic people will take more care on this occasion to bolster Islamic unity and protect Islamic brotherhood and Iraqi national brotherhood." -- Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari

"Oh honorable people of Samarra! We should stand as one, united in confronting terrorism.... This assault is an assault on all Muslims." -- Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Jabur

"They will fail to draw the Iraqi people into civil war as they have failed in the past." -- Iraqi National Security Adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i

"If the security systems are unable to secure necessary protection, the believers are able to do so with the might of God." -- Shi'ite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani

"We will not only condemn and protest but we will act against those militants. If the Iraqi government does not do its job to defend the Iraqi people we are ready to do so." -- Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, speaking through spokesman Abdel Hadi al-Darajee

(compiled by Reuters)

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