U.S. forces have arrested the two leaders of the network believed responsible for the brazen raid in Karbala by terrorists disguised as Americans, in which five U.S. soldiers were kidnapped and later killed in January, U.S. military officials said today.
In operations over the past several days in Basra and Hillah, coalition forces captured Qais Khazali, his brother Laith Khazali and several other members of the Khazali network, a splinter faction of the Mahdi army.
Senior U.S. military sources tell ABC News that hard evidence linking the Khazalis to the Karbala raid, including the ID cards of several of the dead American soldiers, was recovered at the scene.
The coalition also found evidence linking the men to Iran and to an arms smuggling operation that included the high impact Explosively Formed Projectiles, or EFPs, according to U.S. officials.
The network’s connection to Iran raises the question of whether the Karbala raid was designed to exchange the captive American soldiers for the Iranian officers arrested by U.S. forces in Irbil in December — a plan that obviously went awry when the getaway vehicles were chased by Iraqi security, and the Americans were shot.
U.S. military also disclosed today that the leaders and members of the “Rusafa” car bomb network responsible for “some of the horrific bombings in eastern Baghdad in recent weeks” had also been arrested.
And it was also revealed that a “Saddam Fedayeen leader involved in setting up training camps in Syria for Iraqi and foreign fighters” was also arrested in Mosul. Officials declined to name the individual or describe the location of the camps in Syria.
Since 2003, there has been ample evidence that foreign terrorists were infiltrating across the Syrian border into Iraq, activities that both U.S. and Iraqi officials have repeatedly asked the Syrian government to stop.
Today’s arrest was the first official indication, however, that terrorist training camps were operating in Syria.
Syrian President Bashar Assad has consistently denied his government was knowingly permitting the flow of terrorists across the border into Iraq. Given the regime’s multiple security organizations, it may be harder to deny any knowledge of camps training foreign terrorists on Syrian soil.