Skip to comments.Fallujah bloodbath casts shadow on handover plan (al Qaeda #3, former bin Laden bodyguard, in Iraq?)
Posted on 02/14/2004 5:21:10 PM PST by saquin
Scores of masked gunmen went on an audacious daylight rampage through the flashpoint Iraqi town of Fallujah yesterday morning, launching twin attacks on a police station and civil defence compound that left at least 23 people dead and 35 wounded.
At least 14 of the dead were lightly-armed police officers, recently recruited to the force, who could offer little resistance to the heavily-armed gunmen, suspected of being foreign fighters.
About 70 raiders shouting "God is great" fired rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and machineguns at policemen, throwing grenades as they cleared the police station room by room and released at least 20 prisoners. A senior officer, Lt Col Jalal Sabri, said that four attackers were killed in the melee, as well as four civilians.
"Their weapons were more powerful than our Kalashnikovs," said Earazan Abu Issa, a police officer who was outside the station when it was attacked. Lt Kamel Allawi, who was inside when the gunmen burst in, said: "I only had a pistol with me. Right away I fell on the ground and blood was gushing out of my left leg."
The scale of the operation raised fears of a new phase in the campaign against US-led coalition forces and their Iraqi supporters, which is apparently designed to undermine American plans to transfer power back to Iraqis by June 30.
The mayor's office also came under attack from the gunmen, who moved freely in pick-up trucks around the town 60 miles west of Baghdad, a hotbed of American resistance. Last week, pamphlets signed by insurgent groups were distributed around Fallujah, warning Iraqis not to co-operate with US forces and threatening "harsh consequences".
Despite the hint that trouble was imminent, residents said there was little evidence of American support on the ground yesterday. Although US warplanes circled overhead, dropping heat balloons to divert heat-seeking missiles in the aftermath of the attacks, no US troops appeared on the streets and eyewitnesses said the attackers went largely unchallenged.
"Fallujah is out of control," said one resident, Bilal Mukhlif, as he quickly brought down the shutters on his tyre shop two blocks away. Another shopowner said that he and his neighbours had been told not to open for business that morning because an ambush was imminent.
Standing in a bloodstained room at the police station, Lt Col Sabri said that two of the four dead attackers were carrying Lebanese passports. He believed that all the gunmen were foreign fighters. "I suspect they were Arabs or Syrians or belonged to al-Qaeda," he said. "They want to create instability and chaos."
Qais Jameel, a wounded policeman, said that he had heard some of the attackers speaking a foreign language. From his hospital bed, the sheets soaked in his blood, he said: "It sounded like gibberish to me. It wasn't Arabic."
The attack in Fallujah came at the end of one of the bloodiest weeks in Iraq since Saddam Hussein fell in April. Two suicide bombs killed at least 100 Iraqis hoping to join the newly-formed police force and army, and three US soldiers died in guerrilla ambushes.
Coalition officials have already blamed foreign fighters for many of the guerrilla attacks. Yesterday's raid came as the Telegraph learned of suspicions that a high-ranking al-Qaeda member, Saif al-Adel, is operating in Iraq.
Al-Adel, a former bodyguard of Osama bin Laden and number three in the terror group's chain of command, is believed to be among a group of senior al-Qaeda members who moved from Afghanistan to Iraq last September to wage jihad, or holy war, against American forces.
An informant in Pakistan with close links to senior al-Qaeda and Taliban members said al-Adel, an Egyptian, planned to team up with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian linked to a string of major terrorist attacks in Iraq over the last few months.
Last week, the Americans named al-Zarqawi as the author of an intercepted letter urging al-Qaeda to stir up civil war between Iraq's Shia and Sunni Moslems. The US-led coalition doubled the reward for al-Zarqawi's capture to $10 million (£5.3 million).
They are even keener to capture al-Adel, who has a $25 million (£13.5 million) bounty on his head for information leading to his capture. He is believed to have played an important role in the US embassy bombings in Africa in 1998, and in more recent terrorist attacks within Saudi Arabia.
The al-Qaeda informant said: "After an assembly of top al-Qaeda people was held, Saif al-Adel was ordered to reorganise the Iraqi resistance against the Americans and foreign invader troops in Iraq, and turn it into a holy war. Some top al-Qaeda members moved from Afghanistan to Iraq through Iran. Right now Zarqawi and Saif al-Adel are working together, trying to lead the resistance and attacks in Iraq."
Coalition officials say that recent intelligence, as well as information from captured Iraqis, points to stronger links between insurgents and the al-Qaeda network but there is no evidence linking the suicide bombings to al-Qaeda.
Nonetheless, the possibility that two men at the top of the US most-wanted list are now working together on the ground is certain to alarm the authorities. Yesterday's raid revealed the vulnerability of the Iraqi police and defence units whom the Americans want to assume security duties after the transfer of power.
The Civil Defence Corps building in Fallujah that came under attack yesterday had been bombarded two days earlier by gunmen just as the top American commander in the Middle East, Gen John Abizaid, was visiting the compound. At the time, he said of the civil defence unit: "Obviously they are not fully trained. They're not ready."
Earlier last week, Fallujah's police chief, Aboud Farhan al-Issawi, told the Telegraph that his recruits were still waiting for the Americans to supply them with essential equipment. The coalition had provided only 40 portable radios and 48 protective vests for the 2,000-strong force.
He complained that some policemen had to bring their own guns into work because those provided by the coalition were of such poor quality.
Our job would then be to have a few bases in the hinterland to insure the foreign nationals and others are properly disposed of.
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