Al Qaeda suicide bombers kill 15 in attacks on Iraqi police, Shia pilgrims
Two al Qaeda in Iraq suicide bombers killed 15 Iraqis in a pair of attacks today that targeted a police station and Shia pilgrims in the northeastern province of Diyala.
In the first attack, a suicide bomber drove an ambulance packed with explosives into a police training center in the city of Baqubah, the provincial capital. The bombing killed 13 Iraqis and wounded dozens more.
Reports differ on how the suicide bomber was able to penetrate security at the police training center. According to AFP, a phone call was made from a person claiming to work for the provincial health department who told the police to expect the ambulance. According to the BBC, a dismounted gunman opened fire at the gate and cleared a path for the ambulance to enter the compound.
In the second suicide attack, an al Qaeda bomber detonated his vest while Shia worshipers were gather in the nearby town of Ghalbiyah. Two people were killed and several more were wounded, including the deputy governor of Diyala province.
Al Qaeda in Iraq has carried out three suicide attacks in the past two days. Yesterday, a suicide bomber killed 52 police recruits and wounded scores more in an attack at a recruiting station in Tikrit in Salahadin province.
Iraqi security forces, Shia worshipers, and more recently, Iraqi Christians, have been the primary targets of al Qaeda attacks. AL Qaeda seeks to weaken Iraqi's security forces as well as stir up sectarian attacks throughout the country.
Background on the state of al Qaeda in Iraq
Al Qaeda in Iraq has suffered significant blows to its leadership at the hands of the Iraqi security forces in the past year [see LWJ report, Al Qaeda in Iraq is 'broken,' cut off from leaders in Pakistan, says top US general, for a list of senior leaders killed and captured up until June 2010]. But while unable to hold territory, the terror group has been able to reorganize and launch high-profile terror attacks against the Iraqi security forces and government institutions. The attacks have been less frequent over the past two years, however, and have failed to threaten the Iraqi state.
The recent attacks are being directed by Nasser al Din Allah Abu Suleiman, al Qaeda's new 'war minister' for Iraq. Suleiman was appointed in May 2010 after his predecessor, Abu Ayyub al Masri, was killed in a US raid along with Abu Omar al Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq. Also in May 2010, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi al Hussieni al Qurshi was named the new emir of the Islamic State of Iraq, and Abu Abdullah al Hussieni al Qurshi was named the deputy emir. [For more information on the identities of al Qaeda's top two leaders, see LWJ report, Al Qaeda in Iraq's security minister captured in Anbar.]
Al Qaeda in Iraq is supported primarily through its networks in eastern Syria. The al Qaeda ratlines, which move foreign fighters, money, and weapons, pass from eastern Syria through the northwestern Iraqi cities of Sinjar and Rabiah into Mosul.
In 2009, al Qaeda's central leadership based in Pakistan reportedly sent a senior ideologue to Syria to partner with a dangerous operative who ran the network that funnels foreign fighters, cash, and weapons into western Iraq. Sheikh Issa al Masri is thought to have left Pakistan's tribal agency of North Waziristan and entered Syria in June 2009, where he paired up with Abu Khalaf, a senior al Qaeda operative who had been instrumental in reviving al Qaeda in Iraq's network in eastern Syria and directing terror operations in Iraq, a US intelligence official told The Long War Journal.
Although the US killed Abu Khalaf during a Jan. 22, 2010 raid in the northern city of Mosul, Sheikh Issa is alive and is believed to be based in Damascus and is protected by the Mukhabarat, Syria's secret intelligence service.